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The Government aims to ensure all organisations are fully prepared for all types of emergencies. Integral to that is the practicing and testing of all the elements of emergency plans. The sections on emergency planning, business continuity and warning and informing the public provide detail on some of the aspects of planning that will need to be tested through exercises. This section outlines what we mean by exercising, describes different types of exercise, and outlines the exercising which takes place at all levels of government. It also provides some specific examples of recent exercises.

What is an exercise?

An exercise is a simulation of an emergency situation.

Exercises have three main purposes:

Why exercise?

Planning for emergencies cannot be considered reliable until it is exercised and has proved to be workable, especially since false confidence may be placed in the integrity of a written plan.

Generally, participants in exercises should have an awareness of their roles and be reasonably comfortable with them, before they are subject to the stresses of an exercise. Exercising is not to catch people out. It tests procedures, not people. If staff are under-prepared, they may blame the plan, when they should blame their lack of preparation and training. An important aim of an exercise should be to make people feel more comfortable in their roles and to build morale.

Types of exercises

There are three main types of exercise:

(A fourth category combines elements of the other three.)

The choice of which one to adopt depends on what the purpose of the exercise is. It is also a question of lead-in time and available resources.

Discussion-based exercises are cheapest to run and easiest to prepare. They can be used at the policy formulation stage as a 'talk-through' of how to finalise the plan. More often, they are based on a completed plan and are used to develop awareness about the plan through discussion. In this respect, they are often used for training purposes.

Table top exercises are based on simulation, not necessarily literally around a table top. Usually, they involve a realistic scenario and a time line, which may be real time or may speed time up. Usually table tops are run in a single room, or in a series of linked rooms which simulate the divisions between responders who need to communicate and be co-ordinated. The players are expected to know the plan and they are invited to test how the plan works as the scenario unfolds. This type of exercise is particularly useful for validation purposes, particularly for exploring weaknesses in procedures. Table-top exercises are relatively cheap to run, except in the use of staff time. They demand careful preparation.

Live exercises are a live rehearsal for implementing a plan. Such exercises are particularly useful for testing logistics, communications and physical capabilities. They also make excellent training events from the point of view of experiential learning, helping participants develop confidence in their skills and providing experience of what it would be like to use the plan's procedures in a real event. Where the latter purposes are, in fact, the main objective of the exercise, then it is essentially a training exercise or practice drill. Live exercises are expensive to set up on the day and demand the most extensive preparation.

The Government's exercise programme

The Government has in place a co-ordinated cross-governmental exercise programme covering a comprehensive range of domestic disruptive challenges, including accidents, natural disasters and acts of terrorism.

The programme is designed to test rigorously the concept of operations from the coordinated central response through the range of Lead Government Department responsibilities and the involvement of the Devolved Administrations, to the regional tier and local responders.

In addition, local authorities and the emergency services develop their own programme of exercises to test capabilities at the local/regional level.

This nationwide rolling programme of exercises is designed to ensure we have the best possible contingency plans in place to respond to a whole range of civil emergency scenarios.

The UK also observes or participates with international partners in exercises, either through multilateral fora, such as the G8, NATO and the EU, or on a bilateral basis.

Click here for case studies of recent national exercises

Exercising under the Civil Contingencies Act

The Civil Contingencies Act Regulations require Category 1 responders to include provision for the carrying out of exercises and for the training of staff in emergency plans. The same or similar requirements for exercising and training apply too to Business Continuity plans (see the business continuity section) and arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public (see the section on warning and informing the public).

This means that relevant planning documents must contain a statement about the nature of the training and exercising to be provided and its frequency.

Key Documents

You should refer to:

Key Links

Other Documents

You may also wish to refer to:

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