For the previous parts in my series Managing an Exercise Program, please see below:
While conducting an exercise is often the most exciting part of the exercise cycle, evaluation and improvement planning lead us to the real reasons why we conduct exercises – to test plans, policies, and procedures. Evaluation doesn’t just happen. It must be a deliberate, planned activity within the design and conduct of an exercise. There are key activities through the design and development of an exercise which link directly to evaluation – starting with the identification of core capabilities to be tested and exercise objectives to be accomplished. These core capabilities and objectives should lead us directly back to specific plans, policies, and procedures which will be exercised and can help us determine the evaluation methodology and approach. As we further develop our exercise, be it discussion based or operations based, the decisions we make influence evaluation and the resources needed for it.
When exercise planning begins, we identify staff to fill key roles – including exercise director, simcell manager, lead controller, and lead evaluator. The lead evaluator doesn’t necessarily have to be involved in all aspects of exercise design, but they need to be informed of key points and should be reviewing draft materials (i.e. the explan or sitman) to become familiar with the details of the exercise and to help them assemble their portion of the control and evaluation plan. The lead evaluator should ideally be present at exercise planning meetings to become even more familiar with the details, the people, and the facility(s) of exercise play.
Staffing evaluation has a number of options. Often times evaluators will be selected based on matching their individual areas of expertise with the functional areas of the exercise (i.e. fire, EMS, public health, EOC management, shelter operations, etc.). You may have a need for more than one evaluator per functional area, particularly if that function is a major component of the exercise and there is a lot to observe. Remember that if there are multiple exercise venues, they each need to have evaluators assigned who can observe all critical areas. The bottom line is that evaluation should respect the amount of time, effort, and resources invested in the design and conduct of the exercise. If the exercise isn’t fairly and accurately evaluated, it’s simply disrespectful to all that effort and those involved. These concepts apply to both discussion based and operations based exercises. Members of the exercise planning team should be considered as possible evaluators.
Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs) give evaluators guidance in their activity. The HSEEP website provides a multitude of EEG templates which you should absolutely modify for your own use. EEGs are provided for each core capability. Just like planning templates (see my rant about the use of planning templates here), these are guides for you to reach success, but can not and should not be used without modification and customization to ensure that they meet your own specific needs. EEGs are crafted hand in hand with exercise design to ensure that all bench marks and expected actions are accounted for. The rating guide on the last page of each EEG is particularly handy to ensure consistency. You may want to consider including a ‘recommendations’ section for each observation as well, which provides an opportunity for you gain insight from your own subject matter experts on how to address a particular area for improvement. This will help when it comes to the After Action Report. I also encourage evaluators to use and ICS form 200 (a blank sheet of paper!) to take some freeform notes. EEGs, no matter how well designed, simply won’t capture everything. Personally, when I evaluate, I’ll refer to the EEGs, but make most of my notes on a blank sheet(s) of paper or a steno pad. I like to mark specific observations, times and timelines, and even inject numbers if I happen to catch them. After the exercise, I then transcribe my notes into the EEG in the appropriate format.
Training of evaluators is important. You may have some evaluators which are new and some that are experienced. Everyone should go through a controller/evaluator briefing prior to the exercise. Those with little experience might require some extra training, which isn’t a bad thing. Be sure that both your C/E plan and the briefing identify clearly what you expect from evaluators, how they should conduct themselves, the measure of allowable interaction with players, how they should take notes, and when you expect those notes to be turned in. The HSEEP website, referenced prior, also has templates for C/E briefings, C/E plans, etc. You’ve likely heard the saying ‘garbage in – garbage out’… well, exercise evaluation is exactly like that. If you don’t invest in good training and job aids (EEGs) for your evaluators, you will not get good evaluations! The Lead Evaluator also needs to lead! They should check in periodically with each evaluator throughout the exercise to see how things are going and give a quick look at their notes and/or EEGs. Good feedback will help your evaluators provide better observations.
Finally, at the end of exercise play, I expect evaluators to help with the hotwash. Sometimes hotwashes are conducted as a single session with all players. In such sessions, the exercise director or lead evaluator should facilitate and evaluators should take notes. If the hotwash is tiered, where each functional area will identify their top strengths and areas for improvement; each functional area is facilitated by its evaluator who should also take notes. This may be followed by a plenary session if possible. Be sure to have your hotwash strategy planned and identified in the C/E plan!
The After Action Report (AAR) should ideally be written by one or two people based on the EEGs and notes of evaluators. It may be possible for some observations to be combined, helping to make the document both more concise and easier to read. Templates are provided on the HSEEP website for AARs and Improvement Plans. Improvement plans are nothing more than a matrix identifying who will be responsible for what improvement actions, who will assist, what the major benchmarks are to improvement, and when it should be accomplished. As with the rest of the AAR, these should be drafted and provided prior to the AAR meeting for comment – of which there is usually a great deal. Once all this is finalized, don’t let this be the last of it! The implementation of improvements is where organizations often fail! Rarely do organizations follow through on improvements, resulting in similar observations being noted in exercises and incidents for years after. The AAR/IP must be championed by someone at an executive level, and coordinated on an ongoing basis by someone who is responsible for tracking progress, coordinating solutions to problems, and reporting progress back to the executive. For most organizations and jurisdictions, I would suggest a quarterly meeting to review improvement planning progress. After a few exercises, you may find yourself addressing improvements of several exercises in one meeting. Accomplishments should be noted, with the opportunity to test the ‘fixes’ in future exercises. All this feeds back into the strategy planning phase of exercise program management – which is where we started in this series.
This is the end of my ‘Managing an Exercise Program’ series. I appreciate all those who have read and provided feedback. Please continue to do so, and best of luck on your next exercise!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my company – Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – can help you with exercise program planning and management; training and exercise plans; and the design, conduct, and evaluation of exercises; as well as training in HSEEP, exercise design, and exercise evaluation. Give us a call or email and we’ll be happy to discuss what we can do to help your organization’s preparedness.