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Lesson 2 Exercises and Emergency Management

New vocabulary for this lesson:

  • Exercise
  • Due Diligence
  • Exercise Program

What is an exercise?  An exercise is a simulated emergency, in which members of various agencies perform the tasks that would be expected of them in a real emergency.

In other words, an exercise should be a rehearsal for reality.  Reality has a tendency to expose all weaknesses at a time when you can’t afford to have any!

Exercises are so important in an emergency program that legislation and/or regulations govern the establishment of an exercise program. 

They are part of a due diligence program.

In Alberta, the Emergency Management Act governs emergency management programs at

What is Due Diligence?  It is the level of judgment, care, prudence, determination, and activity that a person would reasonably be expected to do under particular circumstances.  As applied to an emergency program, due diligence means that all reasonable precautions are taken to address public safety risks, including during response to an emergency. This duty also applies to situations that are not addressed elsewhere in the occupational health and safety legislation.

To exercise due diligence, a plan needs to identify possible hazards and carry out the appropriate corrective action.  In an emergency program, this includes the training programs and exercises for employees and other persons who provide necessary services.  Training tests the procedures to be followed in emergency response and recovery activities.

Due diligence is important as a legal defence. If charged, a defendant – who could be YOU! - may be found not guilty if he or she can prove that due diligence was exercised. In other words, a defendant needs to prove that all precautions, reasonable under the circumstances, were taken to provide the necessary services and procedures in emergency response and recovery.

Let’s take a look at an excerpt from Emergency Management Act from the Province of Alberta:

Municipal emergency organization

11   The local authority of each municipality

f)    shall appoint a director of the municipal emergency management agency, who shall

           (i)    prepare and coâordinate emergency plans and programs for the municipality,

           (ii)    act as director of emergency operations on behalf of the municipal emergency management agency,

           (iii)    coâordinate all emergency services and other resources used in an emergency, and

            (iv)    perform other duties as prescribed by the local authority;

(g)    shall prepare and approve emergency plans and programs;

(h)    may enter into agreements with and make payments or grants, or both, to persons or organizations for the provision of services in the development or implementation of emergency plans or programs.

Why are exercises so important?  Exercises are an essential component of an emergency management program and have three main functions:

  • VALIDATION- To validate plans, protocols, and procedures and demonstrate resolve to prepare for emergencies
  • TRAINING - To develop staff competencies, to give staff practice in carrying out their roles in the plans, and to assess and improve performance.
  • TESTING - To test well-established procedures and reveal gaps that may exist.


Exercises are part of the Preparedness function!

Do you remember the four functions of emergency management?

  • Mitigation/Prevention: activities performed in advance to lessen the severity and impact of an emergency.

  • Preparedness: activities performed in advance to reduce or eliminate hazards.

  • Response: activities performed during a crisis to save lives, protect property, and stabilize the situation.

  • Recovery: activities performed after a crisis has been stabilized to return all systems to normal.

No one wants to be caught unprepared when an emergency strikes.  We all want to be “ready to go” at a moment’s notice.  Remember the old saying about how the only way to get to Carnegie Hall is through practice… practice….. practice.….?  Testing your emergency plan, equipment, processes, and procedures uses the same principle.  Exercises enhance teamwork and encourage the interaction and cooperation that is needed when a real emergency occurs.

But it’s not enough to just “have an exercise”.  You need to determine what needs to be tested, in what way, and how often – always keeping in mind that there are time, budget, and other resource constraints. That’s why you need a plan, or what we can call an Exercise Program.

Many exercises have a weakness as the problems created by the “emergency” are obvious.  This is unrealistic as the impact of a real life emergency or disaster is not obvious.  As an example, it took a long while for the impacts of the Ice Storm of 1998 to be understood, and to identify who was at risk and/or needed help.  In real life there may be a slow adjustment to the realities of what may be unclear at first.

A well designed and executed Exercise Program of exercises can make you and your emergency management team “ready to go”.  At the same time, your emergency plan is tested to see if it works in a full scale disaster.

What is an Exercise Program?  It’s a risk-based process that includes a cycle, mix, and range of exercise activities of varying degrees of complexity and interaction.

Let’s look at an exercise program in practical terms.  As you go through this guide, you’ll find that it’s a process for:

  • Programming exercises that test elements of your emergency plan, including equipment and the functions of personnel.
  • Planning the best series of exercises for your organization.
  • Conducting the exercises that you have decided to run.
  • Evaluating each exercise to see if it tested what you planned to test, and to analyze the results so that you are able to make any needed changes.
  • Reporting the evaluation results to your emergency management committee members so that they are aware of what has been tested, why, what happened, and what your recommendations are.
  • Following up on exercises to make sure that the recommendations proposed after the exercise analysis have been implemented, and then retested to see if they were the correct recommendations.

In the next lesson, we'll talk about why it is important to have an exercise program.

  • Date modified: 2017-03-22