Exercising Your Emergency Operations Plan

You have just spent a large amount of time, effort and money developing your Emergency Operations Plan. Now, how do you know it is going to work when needed? In order to make all of your hard work pay off, you need to validate your plan by testing...

For the purposes of this article, this exercise will be designed around the release of a gas inside of a shopping mall; this can be an accidental or intentional release. The annexes to be tested will be Law Enforcement, Emergency Medical System and Communications. It is understood that many more departments and agencies will be taking part in the exercise, but their performances and annexes will not be the objective of the exercise.

Objectives have to be established as to clearly state what part of the annex is being tested, such as which agency takes command of the incident or if certain functions of the Communication Annex work.

Sticking to the script

Once the objectives of the exercise are agreed upon the design team can start to develop the scenarios that best covers the objectives. In designing the exercise it is better to start small and to add to it if needed. Sometimes all three types of exercises are designed too large and then fail due to their own weight and not because of weakness with the plan.

For the Table Top Exercise the test script is created for the participants to use on the day of the exercise in the classroom. Here the Facilitator/Controller leads them through the scenario with questions being asked of the different organization on how they would handle a problem and what impact their actions would have on other participants in the exercise.

The Functional Exercise takes the exercise to the next level. While participants are still in a controlled environment, participants have to handle situations in almost real time with problems being sent in from controllers or from the Simulated Cell (SIMCELL). These messages could be a simulated phone call, radio message, or in some other format.

With a Full-Scale Exercise, the participants are out in the field, in a real world environment. Here they are given the scenario and injects in a real time environment. Sometimes parts of the exercise may have to be accelerated, but for the most part the exercise is in real time. As stated before, for safety reasons vehicles are not rushed to the exercise with lights and sirens activated to prevent any accidents occurring before the exercise begins. Also all participants; volunteers, actors, etc. must strictly adhere to the exercise script. No one is allowed to "freelance" or change their role in the exercise. This can lead to injuries or worse, not knowing whether an event is part of the exercise or a "real world" situation.

Depending on the exercise scenario, having loaded firearms must be carefully considered. If the use of firearms is written into the exercise, extreme care must be taken to be sure that there are no live loaded firearms in the area of exercise. This is another reason why it is so important that all exercise participants follow the exercise plan and do not improvise.

Next month's article will continue reviewing how to conduct an exercise and then evaluating it.

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