Jan Decker’s 23 Tips For Success for a FSE

  1. Before you start, decide for yourself:        

                         -Your own purpose for the exercise – why you want to do this, what you want to do in it and what findings you want to collect, analyze and have at the end.

                           -Your role – if you are going to be the PIC (person-in-charge) or PR (person responsible) make sure you know what your role is, your level of authority and define EXACTLY what you will do in your role.   If you do not do this before you get started, you will find yourself, as one of my clients did, with a box full of stuff, an exercise coming up in 2 months, and 45 people on a planning committee with nothing decided or in place.   This poor soul had all the responsibility and was not in charge of anything – it was herding cats with those various agencies and people.   It became almost impossible to get it all together for a successful exercise.   It all begins with your role and what you can do within that role.   That then sets you up for your objectives and the scope of activities.

                               -Your scope – you need to have a good idea or vision of the scope of the exercise – how many people in it, what functions, activities, and events involved, and the application of the outcomes or findings.   Define this as closely as you can FOR YOURSELF (and your team, your boss, your co-workers, and/or your office/agency).    Keep in mind that you don't have to exercise every single function to have a full scale.   Others may want to exercise in ADDITION to what you have decided – just make sure that what they decide to do does not increase YOUR SCOPE and RESPONSIBILITY (unless, of course, it is your boss).

By doing step 1, you will have set your own agenda before you get started and you will be able to facilitate, guide, coach, direct, plan, prepare, execute and recover from the full scale exercise while keeping within your capabilities and preplanned/decided scope.   With this, you will always be the GO TO PERSON (GTP) for this project, regardless of who actually directs it (an executive) or is the PIC.       Your decisions at this step will be the foundation for the exercise design as you will be the most articulate in what can be tested/practiced, how it will be done, how it will be measured and how the outcomes will be applied.


2. Establish a control group – a central committee – consisting of 1 DOER of each participating agency.   This is not a titled group nor a political action committee or other posturing.   This must consist of people who will develop, implement, control, execute and closely evaluate the exercise.   They must be folks who will go back their agencies and do what needs to be done, which is coordinate, assign, schedule, bring back work to the committee and stick with the project.  


3. Develop a FULL PROJECT PLAN or WORK PLAN at the outset.   You can include all the components of an HSEEP exercise in some form – and follow the table of contents for the exercise plan.   This step is implementing the objectives and scope of work into the exercise plan.


4. The most important component for the actual exercise is the MSEL – Master Sequence of Events – which is what we used to call the SCRIPT.   Use a table – number each item, put every single thing in the MSEL – so that you have a numbered, timed, definitive script on every action – not just the injects or simulations – but everything that you expect to happen in the time frame.   I was a controller in a full scale exercise with 30+ field 1st Responders and a Private/Public partnership and the exercise controller decided not to have a MSEL – just let it roll out.   That was fine for the few folks at the SCENE – but for those of us at the Incident Command Post, the EOC, and Staging Area and the Control Group – we had NO IDEA what was going on.   It became impossible to control, manage or even follow the exercise.   Further the radios and cell phones didn't work – we were in a mountain shadow in the northern Rocky Mountains – and so – over a hundred of us were clueless.   ALWAYS use a MSEL and have it be the ONE SINGLE ITEM THAT EVERYONE INVOLVED IN THE PLANNING AND EXECUTION OF THE EXERCISE HAS – use it to control and manage the exercise.   Use it as a master agenda for the day before and day of.  


5. Keep your agenda, purpose and objective at the forefront and minimize the innovation of events and scenario details to meet your objectives.   Participating agencies and groups may want to "help" you with more details and making things more realistic etc.   Unless there is a reason to do this (at several college campuses, we let the drama classes do the scenes and be the victims – they really acted this out with a lot of fanfare and cheering from their buddies – which had a great marketing outcome for program) – you may end up with a scenario or scene that clouds or distracts from your purposes.     One exercise in I which was the Master Controller had 8 major events simultaneously at a state fair grounds – good grief – it was just one thing after another through the whole exercise.   I had no choice in this – but I can tell you – I would never do this again.   1 or 2 main events at the same time is about all anyone can effectively executive and manage.   If you want to have a bunch of simultaneous things – do it in a functional or table top – where it isn't going to cause numerous people numerous concurrent issues.  


6. Pre-train EVERYONE – participants, observer/controllers, simulators, officials, victims, role players, media etc.   Meet with everyone to conduct a pre-exercise training or briefing.   This can be in a big group or one-on-one or via telephone, conference calls.   Let everyone know what to expect, what they are to do, what the basic safety rules are (get them to sign off on this via sign in or email) and what they are doing, measuring, etc.   Get a list of participants IN ADVANCE (no walk-ins please).   If you don't want substitutes, say so in advance – otherwise you will end up with a bunch of participants who haven't been to the trainings and have no idea what is going on.   That can be a real headache to you on the day of the exercise.


7. SAFETY FIRST – if police/law enforcement/security are playing, assign a leader to be fully responsible for safety and sanitation (no live ammo and maybe no weapons at all – even simulated or play weapons).   Unless you are in charge at the Police Academy or the FBI Live FIRE RANGE or something similar – it is best to not have to deal with live ammo/weapons for a civilian, university, school, private business, public place of assembly, ect.    I have been in exercises in which "blanks" were used to fire at "suspects" and seen the cotton wads penetrate shirts and skin – it scares everyone and is not really necessary.   If you are going to have people be "shot" – just use a sign around the neck – you don't have to really act out every thing in a full scale.   It is the process of management and coordination, generally, that is being measured.   Further, keeping the safety first approach limits unnecessary risk and insurance requirements.


8. Double the number of observers/controllers – always have 2 together so that one can help the other, one can be the communicator or runner, one can stay with the exercise if the other has to leave, take a break, take a call etc.   It is best to have controllers/observers wear loud colored shirts or arm bands for quick identification.  


9. Site circumference security may be needed if you don't want people coming in to your exercise scene.   Activity creates curiosity which results in people coming over to get a better look and thus – people in your exercise. Best way is to keep them out by securing the area with tape, walking/roving site security, signs and barricades.


10. Remember the weather – inclement weather has significantly impacted outdoor full scale exercise over the years.     You can't leave people out in the cold, rain, snow, etc.     Plan for this contingency.


11. Using volunteer victims and role players requires some thought.   While it is good to practice with a few real people – avoid having too many.   They get bored, they sometimes do stuff you don't want, you have to feed them, you have to watch them and they take up your resources.   Have just a few and recycle them or practice with a few and the rest are "notional".   For space planning purposes, a person needs about 3 feet square around them – more for large adults,  and more for a shelter site, staging area and for rest areas.


12. Minimize or don't  transport, lift, move, or fly your volunteer victims.   You significantly increase   your risk and insurance requirements by moving people around or letting them INSIDE the actual hospital, etc.   For this part of the exercise,  you may just have to pre-stage or work around if you are using volunteers.


13. If you are using a classroom or a group of people and want them to "check-in" somewhere – such as you evacuated them from one place to another, give them a "goodie" when they check-in.   People like trinkets (like whistles   -which then get blown loudly HA HA) or food or packaged water – or a voucher – something they will like and use – then you get them to check in and give you the feedback you want.   I have tested evacuation plans with hundreds of workers from buildings and when I started suggesting the "give-aways" our tracking process captured a significant population of our "evacuees".   Otherwise -they wonder off and you may not be able to track them.   This also works with getting "feedback" from people at the end of the exercise – exchange their feedback for a goodie – works everytime!


14. Plan for the exercise to go fast or go slower – either can happen on the day of.   Some teams run through their processes pretty fast, others get behind.   If you are running an EOC drill along with the full scale – remember that the FULL SCALE keeps the time of the exercise – if they go too fast, they will get ahead of the EOC.   If you have to – just stop for a quick beat – let everyone pause and get back in sync, if the exercise tempo or schedule gets out of sync with the MSEL.


15. Prepare all surveys, hot wash debriefs, participant feedback forms and questionnaires along with the MSEL and action script and define tightly what you are observing, measuring and soliciting feedback/comments on.   I recommend that this is targeted on the ACTIONS being played out – not on how well the exercise was designed and facilitated – we are asking the participants and the observers to evaluate/score their own action – and provide information on any issues, problems and/or recommendations.   I correlate these questions directly with the objectives and even though there are other things going on in the exercise – I try to keep what I am measuring, scoring and having to write up into the AAR limited to the scope of the exercise.   I do that by preparing the tools well in advance and have them "approved" along with the Exercise Plan and MSEL.


16. Have photos, videos and any media approved in advance and inform ALL participants that they may be on video or in photos during the exercise.   If anyone is under 18 years old, they must be accompanied by a parent or a guardian and approval for capturing their image must be given IN WRITING by the parent.    If you are restricting cell phone video or photos and any upload to social media sites, inform EVERYONE IN ADVANCE DURING THE SAFETY MEETINGS AND HAVE THEM SIGN OFF on this.   There is ZERO tolerance on private cell phone video during a carefully controlled exercise, if everyone participating has agreed and their supervisor and/or agency has signed off on this.  


17. Make sure every single participant has the opportunity to provide written and/or verbal feedback in a hot wash – the immediate debrief after that person's actions in the exercise.   You may have to set up a special room or location for all day HOT WASHES if your MSEL has events ending at different times.  


18. Get yourself an excellent "assistant" who can field people who want to chat with you while you are managing the exercise on the prep days and day of.   You need to keep yourself open to doing your job – people, with good intentions, will want to give you their observations and immediate feedback.   This is especially true for citizen volunteers who are not aware of your critical job and think you are there to talk to them because they see you.   Plan this out in advance so that you don't have to offend ANYONE while you are trying to do your job – even if you don't look busy.  


19. Be very very flexible – things happen during exercises – and you can't always control everything.   I have had phantom "injects" from people (other workers, etc) who listen in to the exercise radio channels and think it is funny to send one of their own in – it IS FUNNY – but causes problems – be prepared for people to not follow directions – another reason to have double controllers, be prepared for lookie loos and walk ons – you may want to have total circumference site security – be prepared for people to not show up – be prepared for EOCs, hospitals, schools and other sites to have conflicts, and misunderstandings – things happen.   Just get through it and conduct your exercise anyway.


20. Posture – as the person responsible – you are in the focus of everyone around – avoid acting like you are upset, distressed, angry, bored, confused, not in control, or anything else that would cause a lack of confidence in you before, during and after the exercise.   Posture success and communicate that it's ok and things will go well – and most often they do.   You want people to congratulate you and your agency for a successful exercise – even if there were problems.     Take hold of those problems and address them – I have been able to turn a problem into a recommendation many times – even though the problem was caused by someone not following the exercise plan.   How you see it and use it and communicate it – is how others will as well.


21. Invite high profile media and/or local elected officials or other significant people to do cameo participation at the exercise to foster interest – in one company I worked with one of the SR Vice Presidents kindly allowed our First Aid team to bandage her up as our token victim.   It was a lot of fun for the team and showed good sport, good spirit and approval from the executives.   Gives your exercise a little more credibility as well if you have a significant person involved.


22. Thank everyone personally – send group emails and personal emails and notes and hold an After Action Debrief or a recommendations/findings meeting if possible.   And thank people publicly and personally.   The more you sincerely thank people and agencies, the more they will be willing to invite you to their exercises and to participate in the future.


23. After Action Report – start out positive and end positive.   Sandwich the improvements (things that would be good if we can do them) in between – with the exception of LIFE SAFETY CORRECTIONS – those come out right after the intro – both in the Executive summary and in the intro.   Most people will only read the first page or two of the AAR – so get your urgent items out in front – but always say that the exercise was successful and valuable.

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