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Lesson 6 - Key roles and responsibilities

New vocabulary for this lesson:

  • Exercise Coordinator
  • Player
  • Controller
  • Evaluator
  • Evaluation Team
  • Lead Evaluator
  • Simulator
  • Actor
  • Facilitator
  • Observer

Organizations have a direct responsibility for the training and exercising of their emergency management professionals. Your organization’s Emergency Management Coordinator will support training and exercise activities for the organization, and any government, private sector, and international partners. As you’ll see in this Lesson, responsibilities for these tasks are complementary.  Collaboration by all parties is needed for a successfully managed exercise.

The key roles played by exercise participants are:

  • Exercise Coordinator
  • Exercise Planning Team
  • Player
  • Controller
  • Evaluator
  • Simulator
  • Facilitator
  • Observer

Now let’s look at each role and the responsibilities of each….

Exercise Coordinator

What is an Exercise Coordinator?  This person has the responsibility for and authority to properly plan and deliver an exercise.

The Exercise Coordinator is the person in overall charge of planning, exercising, debriefing and producing the final report.  It falls to the Exercise Coordinator to control the exercise tempo and make sure there is continuity from one phase to the next, including early termination for safety or other reasons, such as a major incident requiring real action by participants.

Key tasks of an Exercise Coordinator include:

  • Review risk, vulnerability, and needs assessments.
  • Prepare the exercise needs portion of the strategy.
  • Prepare a schedule of major exercise activities and regular updates on changes to the plan and schedule.
  • Coordinate the development and implementation of a multi-year exercise program for the approval of the emergency management committee.
  • Support the planning, conduct, and evaluation of exercises in accordance with the principles and guidance defined in legislation, such as the Emergency Management Act, and regulations.
  • Ensure that the After Action Report (AAR) and Corrective Action Plan (CAP)/Improvement Plan (IP) are prepared.
  • Establish a procedure for tracking the implementation of the Corrective Action Plan (CAP)/Improvement Plan (IP)
  • Incorporate lessons learned, and prevention and response needs identified through exercises, into strategy planning and evaluation.

Exercise Planning Team

Remember our definition of Exercise Planning Team? 

This group of individuals has the overall responsibility for all phases of an exercise.

The exercise planning team is responsible for the successful handling of all aspects of an exercise, including exercise planning, conduct, and evaluation. You’ll find that planning an exercise is not easy. There are many tasks, ranging from designing the exercise to arranging detailed administrative matters. The complex tasks involved in developing exercise content and procedures require the efforts of a dedicated team.

It’s a good idea to select team members from varied backgrounds as this helps with coordination.  It also stimulates creativity. Don’t forget that you’ll need technical and administrative support for word processing, printing, and other tasks involved in materials preparation. While each exercise has its own planning team, the team members may carry over from one exercise to the next, and your organization may find it advantageous to include team members with previous exercise planning experience.  And don’t forget… the membership of an exercise planning team can be adjusted to fit the type or scope of an exercise.

Key tasks of an exercise planning team include:

  • Determine exercise objectives.
  • Tailor the scenario to any jurisdictional needs.
  • Develop the documents used in exercise simulation, control, and evaluation.

An exercise tale……

Planning meetings are problematic.”  Problems began in the planning process.  Each organization had time and financial limitations to their involvement.  As well, because it was organized over several months, it was difficult to have everyone attend all the meetings.  It was found that if someone missed one meeting, it had the potential of interfering with their planned participation and goals.  One lesson learned was that when someone starts out as a planner, they should continue to work with the planning committee throughout the whole process, thereby lessening the confusion of people coming into the process half way through.

Planning team members help develop and distribute pre-exercise materials.  They also conduct exercise briefings and training sessions.  This makes them ideal selections for controller and evaluator positions during the exercise.

Because planning team members have advanced scenario and events knowledge about an exercise, they are ineligible to participate in the exercise as players. 

Tip:  Include representatives from each major participating jurisdiction and agency on your exercise planning team, but keep the team to a manageable size. 

Planning Team Organization

Task assignments can be based on the following functions:

  • Command
  • Operations
  • Planning
  • Logistics
  • Finance/Administration

These functions form the core of Incident Command System (ICS) – a standardized method for managing incidents and events. Planners can use the ICS structure because it creates a distinct chain of command and accountability that ends with the Exercise Planner.


What is a Player? This exercise participant is responsible for taking whatever actions are necessary to respond to a simulated emergency.

Players, also called Exercise Participants, respond to events according to the Exercise scenario. Players have an active role in responding to an incident by either discussing (in a discussion-based exercise) or performing (in an operations-based exercise) their regular roles and responsibilities.

An exercise tale……

Don’t hide from the action.”  A team of eight employees was assembled into an ID team.  When the ID team was requested, all team members immediately left the terminal with their equipment and equal groups of 4 were deployed to the upper and lower decks of the ship.  Within an hour of being requested the passenger list was being compiled based on the travel verification documents utilized.  I noted during a walk that few casualties were on one deck, yet the 4 employees deployed to that site remained there, essentially allowing the other 4 at another deck to cope with a large percentage of the passengers.


What is a Controller? This is a person whose role is to ensure the objectives are sufficiently exercised, the level of activity keeps players occupied and challenged, and the pace (flow) of the exercise proceeds according to the scenario.

The key responsibility of the controller is to make sure that the exercise is conducted in accordance with the objectives, the scenario, and the problems identified in the scenario.  It is the controller who leads the participants through the exercise and is responsible for the development of a Control/Simulation Plan.

A Control/Simulation plan includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Exercise control and simulation activity management.
  • Provisions for controller/simulator training and briefing.
  • Procedures for monitoring and reporting of exercise activities to include the flow and pace of the exercise.
  • Procedures to track the accomplishment of exercise objectives.
  • Procedures to record the responses of players
  • Procedures to include the development of ad hoc messages to support exercise objectives in the message injects.
  • A list of required exercise forms, as well as instructions for their use and preparation.
  • Preparation for the critique.

An exercise tale……

Information Needs To Be Managed.”  On several occasions more than one staff officer was making arrangements on the same action.  Information was often late arriving where it was required for decision.  Direction was often given, but no confirmation of action was received or logged.  The control group was often reduced in membership with only one or two members present.  There were frequent public address announcements which disrupted the action of staff officers.  There were frequent discussions in the operations room.  The control group members were frequently leaving their posts to seek information from personnel in the operations rooms.  The purpose of an operations centre is to collect, collate, distribute, and display information so that it is complete, accurate, and timely, thus enhancing decision making.


What is an Evaluator?  This is an individual assigned to one or more exercise functions or locations to document and evaluate individual, team, and organizational performance based on the exercise objectives and performance criteria.

The key responsibilities of the evaluator are to:

  • Observe the exercise.
  • Report afterwards on what went well and what went poorly.
  • Monitor decisions made in the exercise and then report on them.

Depending on the size and scope of the exercise, there may be one or several evaluators.

What is an Evaluation Team?  The team consists of evaluators trained to observe and record participant actions. These individuals should be familiar with the exercising jurisdiction’s plans, policies, procedures, and agreements.

Duties of an Evaluation Team

To get you started in thinking about being an evaluator, here are some of the responsibilities of the evaluation team:

  • Participate in the exercise design team (this is done by the lead evaluator).
  • Analyze and assess the exercise plan to determine an appropriate evaluation strategy (locations of evaluators, number of evaluators required, roles and responsibilities, etc.).
  • Develop and send out the exercise evaluation plan.
  • Establish a communications system for the evaluators and information support mechanisms.
  • Design and develop the evaluation organization and chain of command.
  • Define the roles and responsibilities of the exercise evaluation team, including evaluation team chiefs and evaluators.
  • Develop policies, guidelines, and procedures for implementing the exercise evaluation plan.
  • Develop the administrative and logistic systems needed for reporting observations, problem resolution, and safety and site preparation for participating organizations and evaluation organizations.

An exercise tale……

What are you evaluating?”  Some evaluation reports were received in the checklist format without narrative explanations as to the pro or con of a particular check mark.  In these cases it was impossible to derive any idea of the positive or negative aspects of the exercise evaluation report.

Duties of a Lead Evaluator

What is a Lead Evaluator?  Thisis the person with overall responsibility for directing the documentation and evaluation of drills and exercises.

The Lead Evaluator has additional responsibilities, as follows:

  • Determine the qualifications and experience level of evaluators needed and identify ways to find these evaluators.
  • Design and develop training for the exercise evaluators.
  • Develop procedures for debriefing of players and exercise evaluation team.
  • During the exercise, manage and coordinate activities of the exercise evaluator team so that everyone can make sure that exercise play achieves the exercise objectives.
  • Monitor exercise progress and make decisions regarding any deviations or significant changes to the scenario caused by unexpected developments in the course of play.
  • Coordinate any required modifications to the Master Scenario Events List (MSEL).
  • Conduct debriefing of exercise evaluation team.
  • Provide observations for input to the exercise evaluation using the key player observation and comment form.
  • Complete routine reports to log exercise events and any special reports, as necessary.
  • Conduct control and simulation debriefings for subordinate controllers/simulators.
  • Chair the post-exercise critique session.
  • Attend evaluation team debriefings.

What are the duties of an Individual Evaluator?

An evaluation team is made up of one or many more evaluators, depending on the type and size of the exercise.  Each evaluator is responsible to the Lead Evaluator at his/her assigned location to assist in monitoring and facilitating exercise play.

Specifically, individual evaluator responsibilities include:

  • Review evaluation plan and control plan materials and attend evaluator training.
  • Perform duties under the management of the evaluation team leader at the assigned location.
  • Observe assigned objectives.
  • Monitor player actions and assist the Lead Evaluator and other exercise control team members in tracking exercise events.
  • Report to the Lead Evaluator any problems or issues that may arise.  Examples of these include: who’s in control, deviations from the scenario, or exercise artificialities that may interfere with exercise realism or exercise progress.  Any problems or issues need to be recorded in an evaluator log.
  • Provide observations using the key player observation and comment form for input to the exercise evaluation.
  • Attend the end-of-exercise participant debriefings/critiques, and any evaluator debriefings as instructed by Lead Evaluator.
  • Review simulator materials and attend training.
  • Perform duties under the management of [identify title of person] at the assigned location.
  • Answer (if allowed) inquiries from players and individuals for general information or information concerning Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) events already injected into play and record each of these inquiries on a log.
  • Record actions and/or decisions on tactical maps, situation status boards, resource status boards, and logs.
  • Assist controllers in monitoring the flow of the exercise and completion of Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) events.
  • Inform Lead Evaluator of possible deviations from the Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) and expected actions.
  • Record observations using the evaluator checklists and points or review.
  • Complete summary forms for input to the exercise evaluation report.

What Does An Evaluator Need To Know?

Evaluators may need additional training, such as Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) operations, the Incident Command System, and all exercise control plan elements. It’s best for training to emphasize the roles and responsibilities of both the control and evaluation teams, as well as how the two teams work together.

Training and prior work experience will give evaluators the tools they need to quickly understand the following:

  • Purpose and objectives of the exercise they will be evaluating.
  • Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) and scenario timeline.
  • Message forms and flow of information.
  • Content of exercise messages.
  • Requirements for coordination with controllers and other personnel.
  • Procedures for monitoring and tracking player actions.
  • Procedures for recording observation of player actions.
  • Procedures for reacting to player inquiries.
  • Procedures for notifying the Lead Evaluator or lead controller of problems and exercise deviations.

As you can see, evaluators need a lot of prior knowledge if they are going to do well in evaluating an exercise.


What is a Simulator?This is an individual assigned the responsibility to artificially duplicate (role play) the response activities of personnel and groups not participating in the exercise.

The key responsibility of the simulator is to create an artificial reality by using visual aids and pre-scripted messages.  The simulator wants each player to react in a similar (but hopefully lower-keyed) manner to the way in which the player would react in a real emergency.

One type of simulator is an actor.

What is an Actor?  Actors are volunteer victims who simulate specific roles, including injuries from a disaster, to add realism to an exercise. Simulators act on behalf of an agency or organization that is not participating in the exercise.


What is a Facilitator?  This is a specially trained individual assigned responsibility for guiding participant discussions during tabletop exercises to ensure key issues are addressed.

The Exercise Facilitator is responsible for making sure that progress is being made during the exercise. The facilitator works with the Exercise Planning Team and players to solve problems that may hamper progress, particularly those problems caused by the artificial nature of the exercise.

The exercise Controller may assign the Facilitator to a specific exercise response area, function or team. In some cases, the Controller may also perform the role of the Facilitator.

The key tasks of the Facilitator are to:

  • Provide briefings and debriefings for all exercise players.
  • Provide exercise inputs in line with the Master Scenario Events List (MSEL).
  • Monitor progress of the exercise.
  • Ensure that expected actions from exercise inputs are completed.
  • Ensure effective exercise responses by coaching exercise participants as required.
  • Report to the Exercise Planning Team.
  • Resolve problems and/or issues if the exercise goes off track, seeking advice from Exercise Planning Team as required.

An exercise tale……

Keep track of the bodies.”  Some casualties walked off the ship and wandered back on board the ship. These casualties or passengers were not immediately secured in the holding area, therefore allowing a passenger who might have been injured a chance to slip away and not be accounted for.


What is an Observer? This is someone who has no role to play in the exercise but is witnessing events either to assess the preparations of the organization or individuals within it, or to learn lessons.

An Observer is someone who plays no role in the exercise, but is auditing the events either to assess the preparations of the organization or its individuals, or to learn lessons. While it’s a good idea to let each organization be responsible for inviting its own observers, you may want to limit the numbers of observers if you are planning a large inter-organizational exercise.

A few tips for you to consider in managing observers:

  • Establish a viewing area. This will also help to ensure their safety.
  • Give a quality briefing to your observers before and during the exercise.
  • Have staff available to explain events and procedures as the exercise unfolds.
  • Seek the views of your observers, perhaps through the use of exercise evaluation forms or requesting written comments.

Is it useful to ask for Public/Private Sector Cooperation?

If you are from a private sector organization, then you already are aware of the usefulness of your organization during an emergency.  For those of you from government, this section is directed at you.  Did you know that there are benefits to asking for private sector cooperation in your exercise? Exercise scenarios are designed to mimic the actual response to the greatest extent possible, and this is one reason why it’s a good idea to involve the private sector. Think of the possibilities for adding value to your exercise! The private sector includes commercial, business, and industrial facilities, tourist attractions, and organizers of special events.

The private sector has emergency management response capabilities that can increase local response capabilities and remove a significant burden from limited local resources. In a real incident, these resources and activities may be available, and so they should be exercised as such.  Do you remember Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area in 2005?  The emergency response came from many organizations, including airlines, department stores, and operators of sports stadiums.

An exercise tale……

We don’t have enough equipment for our patients, let alone for an exercise.” There was a varying degree of participation by hospitals, and apparent conflict in the profile that emergency preparedness has with acute care institutions.  Difficulty was experienced making contact with the appropriate person at the facility during planning phases.  Delays in the release of non-disposable equipment used to render patient care at hospitals were longer than expected.  Given the strain on resources to provide patient care, an exercise can be seen as less important.  There may be a case to provide a “training float” of equipment for exercises, given that hospitals haven’t enough funds for equipment they use every day.

  • Date modified: 2017-03-22