Exercises: The Tool for Evaluating Plans, Training and Preparedness

Emergency plans must be practiced and then evaluated so they will be effective.

In sports there is a saying that “You play like you practice.” The same could easily be said for most agencies, organizations, businesses and other institutions. An organization that does not adequately train its personnel and does not evaluate the effectiveness of that training and the related capabilities attained (or not attained) by its personnel from that training has no right to expect its personnel will perform up to the standards required by the organization.

In the 9/11 Commission Report, investigators determined that the successful response at the Pentagon was due in part to the fact that “Many fire and police agencies that responded had extensive prior experience working together on regional…training exercises.”

It’s not only the good guys who are investing time, money and resources in training and exercises. In order to test various assumptions about airport security and other operational aspects of their plans, the 9/11 terrorists “…used America as their staging area for further training and exercises – traveling into, out of and around the country…” claims the report.

Less than four years later, the White House investigation into the flawed response to Hurricane Katrina determined that “Training and exercise programs did not prepare all levels of government.” Investigators found that “Federal, state and local entities were neither properly trained nor exercised,” thus contributing to the poor response to one of the most destructive natural disasters in U.S. history.

Why are the lessons learned from these and other incidents – lessons that are often learned at great cost in terms of lives and property – not incorporated into emergency plans and made part of the future planning, training and operations of emergency services agencies? Certainly there are ample legal reasons to do so, such as increased liability exposure.

Preparedness Begins With Planning
In DHSNational Preparedness Cycle, planning is described as the process utilized to establish priorities, identify levels of performance and capabilities, and to set standards for evaluating the level of capabilities. An effective planning process should result in a comprehensive, all-hazards emergency operations plan (EOP) for a jurisdiction, organization or other entity. The EOP provides a framework that enables personnel to respond effectively to a wide range of incidents.

Click here to learn how to use exercises to evaluate plans & products.

The planning process usually starts by identifying and analyzing the hazards and threats present in the area covered by the plan, and the likelihood of those hazards resulting in incidents that affect that area. When complete, the EOP identifies not only the incidents most likely to occur, but also the performance capabilities required by personnel responding to those incidents. These hazards and related responder capabilities will form the basis of the organization’s training and exercise program.

Training is the process within the National Preparedness Cycle that provides individuals with the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform tasks necessary to achieve and maintain a response capability. Both planning and training require substantial investments of time, money and resources.

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