Tips for exercise planners

To ensure a successful exercise, experts suggest that planners take the following steps:

— Clearly define your goals. Start with a plan to exercise against and then choose your objectives and your technologies to support the plan.

— Be inclusive. Ideally, everyone with a role in real incidents should also have a role in the planning and execution of a scenario-based exercise, including oft-forgotten players such as public works, public health and nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

— Be creative. Challenge both your people and your systems by incorporating more than a few glitches into your scenario. Examples are the loss of a digital or satellite signal, inaccurate information, an overwhelming influx of messages, the loss of a key decision-maker, civilian panic in the streets, bad weather or a secondary terrorist event, such as a suicide bomber or a cyberattack against your command and control systems.

— Be bold. Don't plan an exercise to have perfect results and protect it from media or political criticism. "If you find out that something doesn't work properly, consider that a gift," said Kay Goss, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and now an emergency management specialist for EDS. "What weaknesses we don't find during an exercise, we'll find out during a disaster, and that could result in lives being lost."

— Think big. There is value in any exercise, regardless of size or scope. Because terrorist attacks do not occur in a vacuum, however, exercises should test coordination and communication capabilities across geographic and jurisdictional lines.

— Ask for help. Academic and nonprofit organizations are useful resources in providing access to simulation or modeling technologies, and industry vendors are invaluable in providing technical support.

— Choose carefully. Don't include a technology in a test just because it's brand-new or seems promising. Technologies should be available, easy to use and proven under laboratory or other field circumstances.

— Build on success. It's not enough to simply practice a drill. Measure technology performance anecdotally or by using preconceived performance criteria. Fix, upgrade, replace or train your way out of any problem. Then, if necessary, incorporate the better approach into your next practice session.

The 2014 Federal 100

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