Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 2)

Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 2)

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

Last month we began a new discussion on the topic of Exercises and Tests with a focus on Exercise Design and with an emphasis on the “building-block approach” to the emergency management exercise program. This month we will focus on exercise design.

NFPA 1600

NFPA 1600 does not specify how to design and develop exercises. It does say, “The Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP) provides a guide for designing, developing, and evaluating various types of exercises designed to assess the maturity of program plans, procedures, and strategies.” The FEMA Independent Study course (IS-120a - An Introduction to Exercises) also goes into detail on how to design and develop exercises.

Exercise Design

According to IS 120a, “Exercise design begins with “assessing exercise needs” through a process called a “needs assessment. The needs assessment identifies the:

  • functions most requiring rehearsal;
  • potential exercise participants;
  • existing exercise requirements and capabilities; and
  • plausible hazards and the priority levels of those hazards.

Based on the results of our needs assessment, we then move on to develop the design elements of our exercise.

Four Key Elements in the Design of an Exercise

The four key elements in the design of an exercise are the scope, purpose, objective, and scenario. These design elements apply to discussion- and operations-based exercises.

  • Scope. There seem to be many definitions of the term “scope.” For our exercises, scope commonly refers to “the kind, rather than the number, of exercise participants (i.e., levels of government/private sector).” Other components of the scope could include, “geographic size (local, national, regional), number of participants, responder functions, and hazard type.” The important point is to design the scope of the exercise to a manageable level that supports the emergency management program and can be supported by the organization’s budget and objectives.
  • Purpose. The purpose statement is a broad statement that provides the goals of the exercise. Often it is “a simple phrase that communicates the intent of the exercise.” A mistake many exercise developers make is to use the purpose statement to “describe in detail how the intent will be achieved.”
  • Objectives. The exercise objectives describe “the performance expected from participants and they convey specifically how the exercise should achieve its purpose.” Objectives serve another purpose too. They provide a framework for scenario development, and they provide exercise evaluation criteria.

    Generally, the number of exercise objectives should be limited to enable timely execution, facilitate design of a reasonable scenario, and promote successful completion of the exercise purpose. A strong and effective objective follows the SMART format. That is, the objective should be:
    • Simple
    • Measureable
    • Achievable
    • Realistic
    • Task-oriented
  • Scenario. The third element is the exercise scenario. “A scenario is the storyline that drives an exercise.” The scenario should be threat- and performance-based, realistic, and challenging. The scenario should be written in a way that “engages exercise participants in a way that approximates real-world responses to emergencies.” Once completed, these design elements will form the basis of the exercise documentation, which we will be discussing next month.

Examination References

As for the previous standards, this one too does not describe how to do all of this. Therefore, we need to review various FEMA 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 should also 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. There are four design elements used for creating an emergency management exercise. Which of the following design elements provides the storyline that drives the exercise?

a. Objectives
b. Purpose.
c. Scenario.
d. Scope.

This question is asking you to understand the different exercise design elements. Specifically, it is asking which design element provides the storyline. By definition, the only one that does this is the scenario. Therefore, the correct response is c. See IS 120.a.

2. Our needs assessment indicated the local hazard materials team recently received new equipment and updated their standard operating procedures. Which one of the following exercise objectives supports the jurisdiction’s needs and follows the SMART format?

a. Assess the capability of the jurisdiction to respond to an unknown chemical release.
b. Assess the capability of the local hazardous material team to detect, identify, monitor, and respond to the effects of an unknown chemical release.
c. Detect, identify, monitor, and respond to the effects of an unknown chemical release occurring at 2:00 a.m.
d. Detect, identify, monitor, and respond to the effects of a chlorine chemical release occurring at the regional water treatment plant.

This question is asking you to understand how strong and effective exercise objectives are written to support the needs assessment. Here we learned the local hazardous materials team received new equipment and updated their procedures. So we should exercise the team, their equipment, and their procedures. On inspection, the four responses all appear to follow the SMART format, but do they include all the elements and support our needs assessment?

Reviewing the four choices, we see that a specifies the jurisdiction. Though the local hazardous materials team is part of the jurisdiction, this is not specific enough (task- oriented) to support our needs assessment. Choice b does contain all the required components and is probably the correct response.

Choice c includes many of the elements, but it does not mention the local hazardous materials team. Choice d is even more specific than choice c, but again it does not provide the task orientation our needs assessment indicates. Therefore, the correct response is b. 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, with a focus on exercise development. We also will 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, June 2017

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