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Adapting to the storm: Perspectives on hurricane response from county, university, and military leaders

Why are emergency preparedness and response exercises important? – Part one


Tell, Teach, Involve

Training and Learning Techniques for Emergency Notification and Incident Notification Personnel


“Tell me and I forget, teach me, and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin


Why use emergency preparedness and response exercises?


One of the key activities that an emergency notification or incident notification manager should help coordinate is the use of exercises to train staff members and volunteers. Much of what I will discuss is drawn from Columbia University’s School of Nursing’s Public Health Emergency Toolkit. In addition, the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) 2013 provides the groundwork for these exercises.


There are several key reasons to have frequent exercises:


1. To test your ability to actually accomplish what you have committed to on paper

2. To fix any problems that develop as you walk through your plan before an incident

3. To test the response to several scenarios involving different teams and incident types

4. To demonstrate preparedness by having documented testing events and evaluations


What types of exercises can be planned?


Discussion-based activities


Seminars: Informal discussions help participants understand their roles, responsibilities, and resources.

Workshops: Workshops are like seminars but designed to have deliverables. Completing a workshop may be the first step in planning more complex exercises.

Tabletop exercises: Scenarios or simulations can be used as the basis for walking through a full incident. Tabletop exercises usually include an information session, a story that identifies what has happened and what is currently occurring, and an assessment of the team’s response and activities.


Operations-based exercises


Drills: Repetitive tests of specific functions and response procedures can be based on notifications, communication, team coordination, etc. In addition, drills can be scheduled or spontaneous.

Functional exercises: Functional exercises are frequently used to test an emergency response system. For example, the team may be tested on its ability to handle the communications required during the six stages of a crisis described by critical communications expert Dr. Robert Chandler. The reactions of the team are recorded and evaluated.

Full-scale exercises: Full-scale exercises involve major emergency plan operations that take place over an extended period of time. In many cases, these exercises will involve several teams or agencies, are held at their emergency areas or operation centers, and use simulated victims or incidents.


We’ve gone over the basics of emergency preparedness and response exercises, but how do you determine if these activities are successful? In our next edition, we’ll look at exercise goals, objectives, and measurements, along with a practical example that illustrates the value of emergency preparedness and response activities.

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