Exercises are organized and controlled simulations that are developed to practice the implementation of a specific skill, tactic, management strategy, or a combination of emergency management strategies. They are developed and facilitated at a variety of levels, including drills, tabletop exercises, functional exercises, and full scale exercises, with each level becoming increasingly complex. Starting with a drill, the local entity can practice a single, particular skill or tactic such as the evacuation of a building. As components to the exercise are added, the most complex level is the full scale exercise which tests or practices a variety of skills, tactics, and emergency management and operational objectives, simulated with the actual implementation of procedures, and the movement and utilization of resources and equipment. These exercises range from a discussion-based approach, to a realistic activity approach, all depending on the requests and needs of the local entity. All exercises are developed from an all-hazards approach, including but not limited to natural disasters, civil unrest, terrorism, and others. In addition, all exercises are developed based on the federal Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation (HSEEP) program, ensuring that the local entity meets all required state and federal guidelines and regulations.
Emergency situations affecting a local community are typically high stress, fast moving environments that allow little time for learning and development of new skills. With an exercise, regardless of the level of complexity, this sometimes overwhelming management of operations can be broken down into specific objectives in a controlled environment. In addition, a comprehensive exercise that includes an after action review will provide feedback, lessons learned, and recommendations for improvement to the existing local emergency management program. These recommendations can be used for the continued development of the client’s emergency management exercise program. Local exercises provide focused attention on identifying and involving the large number of external partners and stakeholders. In dealing with local emergencies or incident, local organizations and private entities are often able to provide service, support, and resources that would otherwise not be available to the local jurisdiction. These exercises provide a platform for the engagement of external partners, and identify innovate ways utilize all available resources.
In order for local government entity to maintain its existing emergency management program, exercises should be implemented on a regular basis. These exercises are developed based on the potential hazards that are specific to the local jurisdiction, and utilize the existing emergency management and response plans and procedures. In addition, exercises allow and highly encourage the involvement of a wide-variety of local emergency management entities and other external partners. This extensive local involvement will increase coordination and communication based on interactions between local response personnel, building lasting relationships that will strengthen response operations. In addition, the completion of regular exercises will provide invaluable feedback on areas of improvement to focus on for the continued development of the local emergency management entity, resulting in an overall increased level of preparedness and local resiliency.
Witt O’Brien’s has extensive experience in design, implementation, facilitation, evaluation, and control of all aspects of exercises for emergency management programs for local entities and jurisdictions across the nation. Our team works hand in hand with our clients to evaluate the unique and specific hazards that threaten the local community, evaluate the current emergency management organization, and develop an exercise that will specifically address their needs. Witt O’Brien’s establishes an exercise environment that is based on enhancing cooperation, communications, relationship building, and understanding. The exercise scenarios are developed to stimulate the discussion and learning around the local emergency management coordination and response, including activation and coordination, roles and responsibilities, senior executive decision-making, and communication among departments, programs, and individuals.
Witt O’Brien’s exercise planners are all certified by the national HSEEP standard. Our team has used exercise events, both discussion based and operations based exercises, as training events and as ways to vet planning materials and procedures for their improvement as well. Our after-action meetings, improvement plans, and reports have proven to be a critical assessment of the emergency management program, and one that has provided jurisdictions the insights to deepen key areas of their readiness.
Through our long-standing relationships with local entities across the county, Witt O’Brien’s has been able to directly see the impacts that successful exercises has on the development of a local emergency management organization. We have worked with clients to identify areas of improvement noticed during the exercise, and use those findings to build upon the current emergency management program, revise emergency operation documents, and in many cases successfully manage real-life incidents in their communities. Our clients that have continued to utilize their local exercise program and enhance their preparedness efforts have become leading examples of best practices in their states, sharing their ideas and resources with other local jurisdictions to build a stronger, more resilient region.