Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 1)

Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 1)

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By Daryl Lee Spiewak, CEM, TEM, MEP, Lead Trainer for the CEM Commission, and Chair, IAEM-Global Communications Work Group

Recently we completed our discussion of Training and Education. This month we begin a new discussion on the topic of Exercises and Tests, with a focus on Exercise Design. This month we will cover the “building-block approach” to the emergency management exercise program.

NFPA 1600 requires, “The entity shall evaluate program plans, procedures, training, and capabilities and promote continuous improvement through periodic exercises and tests.” The standard goes on to state that exercises are “designed to assess the maturity of program plans, procedures, and strategies,” while tests are “designed to demonstrate capabilities.” FEMA, in Independent Study Course 120a, An Introduction to Exercises, says exercises are all these and more!

Building-Block Approach

One key concept for our exercise program, according to IS 120a is, “Exercises should be planned in a cycle that increases in complexity. Each successive exercise should build on the scale and experience of the previous one.” This means we should use a “building-block approach” to exercise design.

The “building-block approach” consists of seven accepted types of exercises divided into two different categories. The first category is called Discussion-based and the second category is called Operations-based. Discussion-based exercises center on discussions and consist of four exercise types (from simplest to more complex) – seminars, workshops, tabletops, and games. Operations-based exercises center on action-oriented activities and consist of three types (from simplest to more complex) – drills, functional, and full-scale.

Exercise Characteristics

Discussion-based exercises are the least complicated types of exercises because they do not involve deployment of resources. They do provide a forum for participants to discuss and even develop plans, agreements, training and procedures with a focus on strategic, policy-oriented issues. In these exercises, “a facilitator or a presenter usually leads the discussions, helping to keep participants on track and ensuring that exercise objectives are met.”

Operations-based exercises are the most complicated because they actually deploy resources and personnel who perform their emergency tasks as if the scenario was real. These types of exercises require the “execution of plans, policies, agreements, and procedures; they clarify roles and responsibilities; and they improve individual and team performances.

Examination References

As for the previous standards, this one too does not describe how to do all of this, so for the exam we refer back to various FEMA Independent Study Courses. For the exam, therefore, we need to review independent study courses related to the activities that make up preparedness and communication, such as IS-120a, An Introduction to Exercises, for the core questions. USA candidates also should review the Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP) documents.


The application process for both the CEM® and the AEM® does not require the candidate to address Exercises and Tests specifically as one of the required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA) components for the emergency management essay. However, it does require discussion of Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation activities. In addition, candidates may choose Exercises and Tests as a key component of their Problem Statement and write about that (covering all the KSAs).

Practice Questions

Here are two core-type questions for our analysis in this article.

1. The local emergency plan was recently revised. From the following list, which type of exercise should the emergency manager use to teach or orient the participants on the revised plan?

a. Game.
b. Seminar.
c. Tabletop.
d. Workshop.

This question is asking you to understand the different types of discussion-based exercises and when they are used. According to FEMA, games are a simulation of operations, using rules, data, and procedures designed to depict an actual or assumed real-life situation.

Seminars teach or orientate participants. Tabletops involve senior staff, elected or appointed officials, or other key personnel in an informal group discussion centered on a hypothetical scenario. Workshops build or achieve a product.

Since the emergency plan was recently revised, responsible individuals and organizations need to know the content of the plan, its concepts, procedures, and participants. Games and tabletop exercises assume knowledge of the plan, so they would not be suitable for training. A workshop develops a product, and the goal here is to learn about the revised plan. Therefore, the correct response is b. See IS 120.a.

2. Your emergency management plan has been in effect and the responsible individuals and agencies attended various seminars and a tabletop exercise. Now you want to evaluate the ability of multiple agencies to coordinate their response activities. Which one of the following exercises would you develop?

a. Drill
b. Full-scale
c. Functional
d. Game

This question is asking you to understand the different types of operations-based exercises and when they are used. According to FEMA, drills are a supervised activity that tests a specific operation or function of a single agency. A full-scale exercise is a high-stress multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional activity involving actual deployment of resources in a coordinated response, as if a real incident had occurred. A functional exercise is a single or multi-agency activity designed to evaluate capabilities and multiple functions using simulated response.

Games are a simulation of operations, using rules, data, and procedures designed to depict an actual or assumed real-life situation. As such, games are a discussion-based exercise rather than an operations-based exercise. Therefore, the correct response is c. See IS 120.a.

When reading the questions and responses, be sure you understand exactly what the question is asking of you, and read each response before selecting the correct one.

Next Month

Next month we continue our discussion on Exercises and Tests. We will also analyze some practice exam questions. As usual, please send any questions you have about the examination or the certification process to me at info@iaem.com, and I will address them in future articles.

IAEM Bulletin, May 2017

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