Skip to content

The Issue

Do you have an emergency management or business continuity plan that has not been tested? How do you know if the document will be effective in an emergency? There are really only two ways to find out. One way – the least favorable way – is to have an actual disaster; the other way – the smarter way – is to hold an exercise. An exercise can often provide a better learning experience, and is certainly a lot less stressful!

What You Should Know

What is an Exercise?

Exercises allow participants to ‘practice’ the performance of duties, tasks, or operations very similar to the way they would be performed in a real emergency. An exercise can test or evaluate emergency operation plans, procedures, facilities – or any combination thereof. The exercise should simulate a realistic event, and allow the company to evaluate how all participants performed.

Why Exercise?

Planners often have to build a management case to conduct exercises. Exercises can provide you with a wealth of information regarding the viability of your plan. Some benefits include:

  • Assess the adequacy of current procedures and policies
  • Increase general awareness of proficiencies and deficiencies
  • Assess the allocation of resources and manpower
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities
  • Improve individual performance
  • Motivate employees
  • Build confidence
  • Evaluate the communication between the participant groups
  • Determine overlaps and holes in planning

How Can EMSS Help?

Emergency Management & Safety Solutions can help you achieve success in your exercise program. We can offer development and design services for the following types of exercises, which are listed in ascending order of complexity.

Orientation Exercises

Note: For a company’s first exercise, EMSS recommends starting with an orientation exercise. Beginning with a more complicated exercise than the group can handle can act as a deterrent to future participation and be a real de-motivator.

  • Does not require previous experience of participants
  • Provides a way to “shake out” a new plan
  • Can provide new staff or leadership a way to get acquainted with the plan

An orientation exercise is relatively easy to conduct and serves the dual purpose of familiarizing the team with the plan, and motivating the team. Orientations are usually informal, last about an hour, and usually have a planning cycle of 30 days.


  • Test a single emergency response function
  • Involve actual field response
  • Practice or test under realistic conditions

A drill is an activity that tests, develops, or maintains skills for a single emergency response procedure. Some common examples would be fire, radio, or earthquake drills.

Tabletop Exercises

  • Provides a vehicle to practice problem solving in a group
  • Encourages team building
  • Allows the team to continue to work and revise plans
  • Allows the team to continue to work and revise plans

The tabletop exercise begins with participants being told of a simulated event. They then respond to a set of problems related to the emergency just presented. The basic tabletop exercise can be designed to solve problems in a group setting via brainstorming. A more advanced tabletop would include the introduction of ‘outside’ messages being presented by exercise assistants, known as a “simulation team.”

Depending upon the complexity desired, the planning cycle can range from two to three months. The exercise time can be from two to four hours, plus a 30- to 60-minute debriefing.

Functional Exercises

  • Assess the allocation of resources and manpower
  • Evaluate communication between the different groups
  • Assess the adequacy of current procedures and policies

A functional exercise is a fully simulated activity. Participants actually perform the tasks required in the plan, although the work happens within the confines of the exercise room. This type of exercise involves more participants, including simulators (the Sim team), evaluators, and a bigger design team. It also includes the introduction of more sophisticated messages and other media, such as news video footage, radio broadcasts, faxes, newspaper articles, or actors. The Sim team is the main driver of the exercise. They deliver all messages to exercise participants. This closes the communication loop, as all problems must be resolved by speaking to a Sim team member.

A functional exercise is more real, and is made stressful by escalating messages, increasing in both frequency and complexity. The planning cycle for a functional exercise is three to four months. The exercise time can be from two to four hours, plus a 30- to 60-minute debriefing.

Full-Scale Exercises

A full-scale exercise Involves field response (actual mobilization of field personnel and resources, and the actual movement of emergency response teams, equipment, and resources).

  • Involves a field response
  • Presents the events in real time, is complex and detailed
  • Requires a rigid time schedule, which adds to the stress level
  • Is more expensive to conduct

A full-scale exercise has all of the complexity of the Functional exercise, with the added layer of an actual field response on top.  In a Full-scale exercise, you order a resource AND you deploy it.  These exercises are more commonly done in the public sector, such as an airport exercise that simulates a crash (with actual “victims” being removed from the tarmac), or a terrorist exercise (with Sarin gas “victims” being treated at the scene of a Federal building).  Some private sector organizations located in a seismic environment may do a Full-scale exercise that simulates the triage and treatment of earthquake “victims,” sets up a first-aid station, then rolls up to the formation of their EOC.

These exercises are expensive to plan and deliver, and are very time-consuming.  Those organizations likely to do a Full-scale exercise are those with major regional risks, such as hurricanes and earthquakes.  One Full-scale exercise commonly done in the private sector is a disaster recovery exercise where the technology teams go to the company’s actual hot site and perform a real recovery of data and applications.  Due to the infrequent nature

Interested In Discussing Our Consulting Services?