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About Emergency Exercises

Why Exercise?
Exercises are conducted to test plans, procedures, equipment, facilities, and training. Exercises are evaluated to determine what went right and what needed improvement. Deficiencies noted during the exercise are documented and discussed in an after action review or report (AAR) and an Improvement Plan (IP) is developed to identify problems that need to be corrected or areas that can be improved, and who is responsible for implementing them. The Improvement Plan thus leads to changes in plans, procedures, equipment, facilities, and training, which are again tested during the next exercise.

Types of Exercises
Discussion-Based Tabletop Exercise
The purpose of a tabletop exercise is to facilitate a learning environment where key personnel from response agencies can come together, face to face, to understand and talk through an integrated response to a specific emergency situation. During tabletop exercise, emergency facilities are not activated and emergency response forces are not deployed. Tabletops provide an ideal environment to assess plans, policies and procedures, or to assess the systems needed to guide the prevention of, response to, or recovery from a defined incident, and for learning, discussing, and identifying issues that may not be as obvious when players are physically separated. Participants are encouraged to discuss issues in depth and develop decisions through slow-paced problem solving, rather than the rapid, spontaneous decision making that occurs under actual or simulated emergency conditions. Tabletop exercises provide an excellent opportunity to compare what participants actually expect to do and how they plan to do it with what is written in the local emergency plan, highlighting changes that may need to be made in the plan. Tabletop exercises are frequently conducted as part of the preparation for a later functional or full-scale exercise.

Functional Exercise
A functional exercise is designed to test and evaluate individual target capabilities, multiple functions, activities within a function, or interdependent groups of functions,  the interaction of various levels of government, response organizations, volunteer groups, and industry in a simulated emergency environment. This type of exercise usually involves key decision-makers, the local Emergency Operating Center, and representatives of response and support organizations. Field response units are not normally activated and deployed during a functional exercise. Controllers and simulators drive exercise events to simulate the reality of operations by presenting complex and realistic problems that require rapid and effective responses by trained personnel in a highly stressful, time-constrained environment.  Controllers and simulators may represent certain field response activities, and external organizations pertinent to the exercise scenario that are not participating in the exercise, such as federal agencies.

Full-Scale Exercise
A full-scale exercise is the most complex type of exercise and includes all the components of the functional exercise plus activation of an incident command post and actual deployment of response personnel and equipment. Full-scale exercises may also involve participation by mutual aid resources from other jurisdictions and state and federal coordination and response elements. Full-scale exercises are multi-agency, multi-organizational and sometimes multi-jurisdictional events intended to test and evaluate the operational capability of the overall emergency management organization by focusing on the implementation and analysis of plans, policies and procedures and mutual aid agreements. Full-scale exercises present complex and realistic problems that require critical thinking, rapid problem solving, and effective responses by trained personnel in a stressful real-time constrained environment that closely mirrors real incidents. The level of support needed to conduct these exercises is greater than other exercises.

Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) is a threat- and performance- based exercise program that provides doctrine and policy for planning, conduct, and evaluating exercises.  HSEEP provides common guidance that constitutes a national standard for exercises. HSEEP includes consistent terminology that can be used by all exercise planners, regardless of the nature and composition of their sponsoring agency or organization. It reflects lessons learned and best practices form existing exercise programs and can be adapted to the full spectrum of hazardous scenarios and incidents (e.g., natural disasters, terrorism, technological disasters). It includes a series of four reference manuals to assist state and local jurisdictions establish effective and comprehensive exercise programs. In addition, they provide information on the form for the AAR and IP.

Exercise Reporting
Local jurisdictions should submit an After Action Report (AAR) and Improvement Plan (IP) that meets the requirements of HSEEP to the TDEM Training and Exercise office. 

Exercise Assistance
TDEM offers the G-920, Texas Exercise Design & Evaluation course as well as a number of other courses relating to emergency exercise programs. For more information on these courses, consult the TDEM Training website,

Exercise design and evaluation assistance is also available from the TDEM Training & Exercise Unit.