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Preparedness Starts with Practice, Eight Steps to Exercise Design

A major component of preparedness is practice. Trouble is, training is time-consuming and can be expensive. Many people either fail to practice at all, or they fail to design an effective training exercise.

If you’re using the building block approach to training, you’ll know that there are many ways to train your team. Types of training exercises can include drills, conferences, tabletop exercises and full-scale exercises.

8 Steps of Exercise Design

These eight steps to exercise design will focus on how to design an exercise.

Stage 1 – Needs Assessment

You won‘t be surprised to learn that the first step in designing any exercise is to assess your organization‘s needs. This gives you valid reasons to do an exercise, helps you define problems you hope to solve, and identifies the functions to be exercised.

A needs assessment has three basic steps:

  1. Define problems.
  2. Establish the reasons to do an exercise.
  3. Identify the functions to be exercised.

After you‘ve completed a needs assessment, it‘s time to review your emergency management plan, resources available, team availability, procedures, and any other relevant documents.

Stage 2 Define the Scope

Defining the scope means to put realistic limits on the areas addressed in the needs assessment. The following five categories make up the scope:

  1. Hazards
  2. Geographic area
  3. Functions
  4. Organizations and personnel
  5. Exercise type

Stage 3 Write a Statement of Purpose

A statement of purpose is a general statement about an upcoming exercise activity. Using this statement, your program can communicate the plan to exercise, the purpose of the exercise, and the exercise scope to all interested parties.

Stage 4 Define Objectives

Objectives can be classified into “general objectives” or “functional or specific” objectives.

The objectives for any exercise activity should provide a statement of the following:

  1. Who is to perform the action? (Example: public information officer.)
  2. What are they to do? (Example: distribute a press release to local media.)
  3. Under what conditions? (Example: distribute the press release during the first phase of the evacuation.)
  4. According to what standard? (Example: distribute within 15 minutes of the decision to evacuate the area.)

Good objectives need to be simple, measurable, achievable, realistic and task-oriented (SMART) and use action words or verbs.

Stage 5 Compose a Narrative

An exercise‘s scenario narrative describes the events leading up to the time the exercise begins. It sets the scene for later events and also captures the attention of the participants. A scenario narrative is normally one to five paragraphs long, with short sentences and specific information. The scenario narrative can be presented to the participants by reading it aloud, giving it in written form, or by pre-scripting a type of news video or radio news broadcast.

Stage 6 Write Major and Detailed Events

These events take place after, and as a result of, the disaster described in the narrative. Major events are problems that are likely to occur based on past events. Normally, there will be several of these directly related to the narrative.

Stage 7 List Expected Action

These are the desired actions or decisions the players are expected to make. Expected actions include:

  • Verify (information gathering)
  • Consider (discuss, negotiate, consult)
  • Defer (put action on the priority list)
  • Decisions (deploy or deny resources)

Stage 8 Prepare Messages

Messages are the means by which the expected actions are brought about. There are two kinds of messages: pre-scripted (developed prior to the exercise), and spontaneous (developed when players react in different ways).

Exercise Design is part of the EMC™ Certification programming, it will also be discussed at Crisis Lab 4.0: Crisis Communications Conference, 4 June 2020.


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