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Lesson 3 - Multi-Year Exercise Program

Multiple, connected exercises that take place over time are called an exercise series. Coordinating a program’s various exercises and exercise series is a crucial part of a Multi-Year Exercise Program.

Exercise coordination is done through the Multi-Year Exercise Schedule. This schedule lays out a long-term schedule of planned exercise dates.

Program managers use the Multi-Year Exercise Schedule to:

  • Avoid duplicating their efforts
  • Combine exercises and ensure the exercises don’t conflict
  • Optimize and combine funding where possible
  • Prevent “over”training

Your multi-year exercise program is based on the need to prepare for emergencies or a disaster, and is part of your building block approach. The program is “function” driven, both in terms of emergency management functions and specific emergency response duties.  For example, if mitigation practices have been identified as weak, what can you do?  It’s not enough to simply identify a problem.

To help develop a multi-year exercise program, the first step is to collect information that identifies specific potential or real problems. As we saw in previous lessons, this information comes from many sources, including:

  • Past exercises
  • Past events
  • Skills that need practice
  • Functions that seem weak
  • Functions that are not exercised
  • New facilities, personnel, or equipment
  • Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) weaknesses or changes
  • Need for role clarification
  • Hazard analysis
  • Recurring problems
  • Threat & risk assessments

The next step is to prioritize the needs, with the most critical being first.

Example: Prioritizing Needs

If the list of needs included: lack of training for damage assessment, breakdown of alert/notification system, a change in the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP), a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and a new hazard, you could prioritize them as:

  1. A new hazard
  2. A new EOC
  3. Breakdown of alert/notification system
  4. Change in the EOP
  5. Lack of training for damage assessment

Once you’ve prioritized your needs, you can plan how you will address each need by using exercise activities in a multi-year exercise program.

Sample Matrix - Exercises to meet needs
Workshop = W     Drill = D   Tabletop = TTX   Functional = FL   Full-scale = FS
NEED 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year 5th Year
New Hazard W TTS D FL FS
New EOC W        
Breakdown of Alert/Notification W W W FL FS
Breakdown of Alert/Notification D D D    
Change in EOP W W W FL FS
Lack of training for damage assessment W W W FL FS
Lack of training for damage assessment D D D    

Different exercises can be planned for one, several, or all the identified needs, depending on the urgency of the needs, and the time that you and your organization can commit to training. What is important is to plan your exercise program so that it meets the needs identified in the order in which they have prioritized.

What is meant by “functions” in the area of emergency response duties?  Anyone responding to an emergency has a specific duty that helps in the overall response.  In planning exercises, the focus is on functions rather than on types of emergencies.  This is because preparedness in those functions is common to all emergencies.  Here are a few examples of functions:

Alert, notification, and warning Evacuation
Coordination Mass care
Communications Disaster social services
Damage assessment Emergency public information
Individual & family assessment Health and medical
Resource management Fire fighting
Financial management Search and rescue
Emergency transportation Law enforcement
Information and planning Public works
Hazardous materials CBRNE
Logistics Continuity of government

Your multi-year exercise plan will need to cover all functions that respond in a disaster or emergency.

An example of a multi-year municipal exercise plan might be:

  • Year 1 – Discussion-based exercises(s) (e.g. tabletop, seminar, workshop)
  • Year 2 – Discussion-based exercises(s) (e.g. tabletop, seminar, workshop)
  • Year 3 – Operations-based exercises- (e.g. drill, functional, small full-scale)
  • Year 4 – Operations-based full-scale exercise (where the municipal EOC (Emergency Operations Centre) is set up, the control group meets to make decisions, and there is a basic connection with the site)
  • Year 5 – Operations-based full-scale exercise with multi-jurisdictional, cross border, multi-organizational participation, as appropriate.

Example:  Multi-Year Exercise Program Strategic Plan

Oranization: ____________________________

Purpose: This matrix can be used as a tool to develop and implement a progressive exercise program.
Procedure: Conduct an assessment of current functional readiness and determine which exercise activities would be most beneficial for each function based on current capabilities.
Summarize your assessment on the matrix below in the column for the current fiscal year.
Projecting activities for each function progressively allows exercising with the intent to reach full capability testing, at the highest level, within a multi-year time frame.

Each activity could be designated on the matrix in the following manner:

Workshop = W  Drill = D Tabletop = TT Functional = FL Full-scale = FS
Funtions 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year 5th Year
Alert, notification, warning          
Damage assessment          
Individual/family assessment          
Resource management          
Financial management          
Emergency transportation          
Info & Planning          
Mass care          
Emergency social services          
Emergency public information          
Health & medical          
Fire fighting          
Search & rescue          

While the example shows a progression of different types of exercises from a less complex exercise to those that are more complex, be aware that at any point in the multi-year cycle, you may have a need for seminars and workshops, and other less complex exercises.

Cycle, Mix, and Range of Exercises 

As you’ve now learned, your multi-year exercise program needs to plan a cycle of exercise activity with various degrees of complexity. At the same time, your schedule for personnel training and equipment purchases needs to be taken into account in deciding upon your exercise priorities.

An effective exercise program uses a combination of exercise types to meet exercise-specific objectives and program goals. For example, a series of exercises may begin with an executive-level seminar, followed by a tabletop exercise (TTX) to discuss the strategic coordination of an event. The tabletop exercise (TTX) is followed by a period of refining emergency plans based on discussions and the exercise’s After Action Report/Corrective Action Plan (AAR/CAP). Various organizations could then perform a series of drills with specific functions to validate each new plan. A final full-scale exercise (FSE) would incorporate all levels of your organization, including the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), and other applicable emergency operations centres (EOC) from other organizations.

Updating Your Multi-year Plan

By now you may have realized that while your multi-year exercise cycle may run on a five year basis, you must continually update the schedule to take into account the lessons learned from previous exercises, to address changes in personnel, and to reflect changes in your organization’s needs assessments. Every year, your Year 2 becomes your Year 1, and you add a new Year 5.

NEED 1st YEAR 2nd YEAR 3rd YEAR 4th YEAR 5th YEAR

A multi-year exercise program is not easy to manage and requires a governance structure.  This is the topic of our next lesson.

  • Date modified: 2017-03-22