Certification Examination Standards – Exercises and Testing Requirements

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By Daryl Lee Spiewak, CEM, TEM, MEP, Lead Trainer for the CEM Commission

Last month we discussed the last two sections of the Implementation standards – Emergency Operations/Response Plan and Business Continuity and Recovery sections. This month we will describe the Exercises and Testing Standards, the last part of the standards used for the exam.

Definitions: Exercises and Tests

NFPA® 1600 version 2013 defines exercises as “a process to assess, train, practice, and improve performance in an organization,” using a standardized process to “evaluate program plans, procedures, training, and capabilities and promote continuous improvement in prevention, protection, response, and recovery capabilities in a risk-managed environment.” Notice that the definition says a standardized process. It does not define the process. Countries, states and organizations define their standardized process.

For example, the U.S. government uses the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) as the standardized process, and it is applicable for exercises across the mission areas of prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. Australia uses a modified process based on HSEEP procedures. The World Health Organization uses a process for hospitals and health organizations that FEMA advocated before the adoption of HSEEP.

The standard defines tests as a special type of exercise, because they “incorporate an expectation of a pass or fail element within the goal or objectives established.” For example, the “testing of a data center recovery plan will need to have an indication of success or failure,” while in other exercises “participants identify and make recommendations to improve the overall program” without identifying success or failure.

The Standard – Exercises and Tests

NFPA® 1600 version 2013 requires entities to “evaluate the emergency management program based on post-incident analyses, lessons learned, and operational performance.” It requires that “exercises and tests be documented.” The standard also requires that “exercises and tests be conducted on the frequency needed to establish and maintain required capabilities.” It recommends an annual basis if one is not specified by the entity.

  • Exercise Types. The standard says exercises should include, but not be limited to, orientation seminars, drills, tabletop exercises, functional exercises, and full-scale exercises. The HSEEP process adds workshops and games to the list of exercise types. The appendix to the standard defines and distinguishes these exercise types. You will find additional details in the recommended FEMA independent study courses or the HSEEP manual listed below.
  • Exercise and Test Design. The standard does not dictate how to design or conduct exercises. Instead, refer to the recommended FEMA independent study courses or the HSEEP manual listed below for those details. The standard does say exercises shall be designed to do the following:
    • Ensure the safety of people, property, operations, and the environment involved in the exercise or test.
    • Evaluate the program.
    • Identify planning and procedural deficiencies.
    • Test or validate recently changed procedures or plans.
    • Clarify roles and responsibilities.
    • Obtain participant feedback and recommendations for program improvement.
    • Measure improvement compared to performance objectives.
    • Improve coordination among internal and external teams, organizations, and entities.
    • Validate training and education.
    • Increase awareness and understanding of hazards and the potential impact of hazards on the entity.
    • Identify additional resources and assess the capabilities of existing resources, including personnel and equipment needed for effective response and recovery.
    • Assess the ability of the team to identify, assess, and manage an incident.
    • Practice the deployment of teams and resources to manage an incident.
    • Improve individual performance. Under the HSEEP process, each exercise objective is aligned to one or more core capabilities.
  • Evaluation. The standard requires that “exercises evaluate program plans, procedures, training, and capabilities to identify opportunities for improvement.” It requires that “tests be evaluated as either pass or fail.” The references explain a process for evaluating exercises and tests.
  • Corrective Actions and Continuous Improvement. The last part of the standard is a process for improving the emergency management program. This consists of a process of corrective actions and continuous improvements. First, the standard requires entities to “establish a corrective action process and to take corrective action on deficiencies identified.” Second, the standard requires entities to “effect continuous improvement of the program through the use of program reviews and the corrective action process.”

According to the standard, the emergency management program shall be re-evaluated when a change in any of the following impacts the entity’s program:

  • Regulations
  • Hazards and potential impacts
  • Resource availability or capability
  • Entity’s organization
  • Funding changes
  • Infrastructure, including technology environment
  • Economic and geographic stability
  • Entity operations

Finally, the standard states, “Reviews shall include post-incident analyses, reviews of lessons learned, and reviews of program performance” through actual response and exercises and tests. This indicates that we must include a review (usually called an After Action Review) and an Improvement Plan as part of the exercise and test process.


For information and discussion on Exercises and Tests Requirements, refer to the recommended FEMA
Independent Study courses and other related references mentioned below. Do not confuse these general resource requirements with the specific procedures found within your organization. While an emergency manager needs to understand and know local procedures to be effective in the position, those procedures could easily differ from the general procedures discussed in the study references and are not found on the certification exam.

The applicable FEMA Independent Study (IS) courses candidates should review when studying the Implementation Requirements are:

  • IS-120a – An Introduction to Exercises
  • IS-130 – Exercise Evaluation and Improvement Planning
  • IS-139 – Exercise Design.

For those taking the USA version of the exam, review the following additional reference:

  • HSEEP Manual, version April 2013

Next Month

This completes the NFPA® 1600 version 2013 standards for emergency management. Next month we will summarize the standards and start our discussion on the new AEM/CEM exam that IAEM will implement in January 2015.

IAEM Bulletin, November 2014

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