Exercise – The Importance of Crisis Management Practice

Exercise. A simple word that means different things depending on the context. In the crisis management and consequence management world it means, practice, show what you can do and figure what needs to be fixed. In the post 9/11 era a specific exercise doctrine, HSEEP (Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program), joined existing programs in the airport, oil, waterway/dams and healthcare vocations. In a way, it is amazing that at least five systems of exercise doctrine exist in and around emergency response. 

All systems of exercise have one thing in common, a process to assess an outcome. Specifically, when it comes to HSEEP and crisis management practice, seven levels of exercise are identified. They are broken into two categories:

In the discussion-based category:

  • Seminars
  • Workshops
  • Tabletops
  • Games populate the category.

In the operations-based category:

  • Drills
  • Functionals
  • Full Scales

Exercise and program design within HSEEP emphasizes a building block approach. Recommending moving methodically over a period of years from one category to the next and mixing and matching different types of exercise over time. This makes an exercise program interesting for participants and encourages them to put forth their best effort. Exercise design is also a great way to practice ICS 300 and ICS 400 concepts. An exercise design team formed into an ICS organization to plan a crisis management exercise is a great use of those skills.

No matter which exercise doctrine and approach is used many times enhancements are necessary to take things to the next level.  One of those enhancements is the use of tactile tools and props like the original Abbottville™ / Command School TTX. The Command School story starts with the vision of Don Abbott. In the early 1990's Don developed the model city diorama called, “Abbottville™”, to provide training sequences for hazardous materials and fire teams. Don and his wife, Bev, trained thousands of community critical incident management teams and firefighters strengthening their decision-making, leadership, communications, strategic and tactical skill sets over many years.

Another powerful enhancement in crisis management practice is the use of emergency management software systems as part of the exercise experience. Whether it be accountability software like Salamander, National County simulations websites like Chelsea County USA, or situation awareness and IAP writing software like Veoci, giving exercise participants hands on time, under the duress of exercise parameters, while being evaluated is priceless.

Building crisis management exercises as another duty assigned is very difficult. Using a combination of pre-designed scenarios from private companies and scenarios, like the National Planning Scenarios that have been pre-constructed from the Federal government can be a true time saver. Pre-designed exercises combined with previously successful exercises ensures the appropriate level of quality control is met.

After a few years of COVID uncertainty, it seems to be time to crank back up crisis management exercise programming for many. It is also a great time to look at something other than vaccine distribution and public health messaging. It is important to resist the sentiment that “we have been on an incident for over a year, so we don’t need to exercise.” The reality is there is a chance, a number of things done during COVID were not done correctly. It is only through strong exercising where that can be revealed. 


Todd Manns The Blue Cell Emergency and Disaster Management Crisis Management Exercise

Todd Manns, Founder and Managing Partner at The Blue Cell.  Todd has worked on a variety of specialized projects over the course of a varied and diverse career. Recognized for having a “can do attitude” which is the result of strong personal beliefs and values with regard to leadership, mission orientation, and accomplishment. Todd began his career began in the United States Marine Corps Select Reserves.  He served as a Police Officer / SWAT Team member and law enforcement sniper, as an interim Chief of Police, and seven years as an Emergency Manager for a Fire Protection District. Formally qualified as a type III planning section chief with incident management team experience and over 25 all hazard deployments to both Incident Command Posts and Emergency Operations Center locations (local and state level).  Todd, his wife, their married adult children and 5 grandchildren live in Colorado. 

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