JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 13 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 13 (pp. to )


STEPHANIE WATKINS, & Chinese proverb


FEMA's training program is designed to help reduce the panic, hysteria, and stress that can occur in a real emergency situation by offering training exercises in a safe, controlled environment. The five exercises are defined as (1) orientation, (2) drill, (3) tabletop, (4) functional, and (5) full-scale. Each successive exercise increases in complexity, and participants can develop confidence and comfort in incremental stages through their experiences. The exercises are run by experienced professionals or “simulators” who direct the action or “play,” “evaluators” who observe the participant's responses to the scenario, and “controllers” who monitor the progress and predetermined time constraints of the scenarios. The participants might include elected officials, emergency managers, first responders who are required by law to train in emergency response and recovery methods, and community volunteers desiring training. First responders can include members of fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services, and emergency management assistance. Immediately following each exercise, participants are asked to evaluate the play and make suggestions for improvements to the preparedness plans and future exercises.


During FEMA's orientation exercise, the concepts and intentions of the training program are introduced to an audience of potential participants. The organization's plan, policies, procedures, and responsibilities are presented, and a consensus for development of future exercises is reached. There is no attempt to simulate an emergency or disaster situation during this meeting.


The drill exercise is a physical walk-through of one single response, such as drills for fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The procedure is demonstrated, then the participants practice the action. Participants are encouraged to ask questions about the procedures and then repeat and practice methods until they are comfortable. Generally no time constraints are imposed. Many components of recovery action can be developed into a drill exercise, and these exercises can be repeated at random over the course of the program to reinforce the other exercises as necessary.


The tabletop exercise is an informal discussion of a small, simulated emergency. It is designed to test and evaluate proposed plans and procedures and resolve questions of coordination and responsibility before implementation of a plan. This exercise familiarizes participants with the administration of response procedures and the need for communication and cooperation during an emergency or disaster situation. It also gives them insight into what resources they might need. A brief background of the emergency situation is given at the start of the exercise, but no help or prompting from the simulators, evaluators, or controllers is permitted. Message notes from the simulators generate a series of verbal or written responses from the participants. There need not be time constraints for the responses of the participants, nor are participants encumbered by facts such as number of available fire trucks.


The functional exercise is a physical, practice emergency response that allows participants to incorporate their drill and tabletop experiences. Like a dress rehearsal, the functional exercise acts as a realistic and stressful simulation in “real time.” The exercise is limited to practicing a few functions within the plan. After a brief history explaining the emergency situation, the exercise begins. Message notes are given in real time, and responses are monitored and observed. Discussion with other team members is possible, but participants must “act out” their responses in an appropriate and timely manner.


The full-scale exercise tests the design of the plan and the coordination of personnel from different organizations. The range of the participant's skills and knowledge is tested. The ultimate opening-night, full-scale exercises take place in real time and employ real people and equipment as if the emergency were actually occurring. Many facets of a plan may be tested simultaneously or throughout the course of the exercise. A well-designed full-scale exercise will provide the most complete and complex training short of an actual emergency situation. Efforts to make the exercise as realistic as possible sometimes extend to the use of moulage, theatrical makeup, on the persons playing the “victims” to give them the appearance of having cuts, scrapes, broken bones, amputated limbs, or other conditions requiring medical assistance. FEMA notes that the exercise can produce extreme stress, and it can develop into a real emergency situation when participants are hurt during play, or when the natural elements, such as fire, water, and wind, alter the exercise beyond the intent of the organizers.