Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 4)

Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 4)

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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 discussed the topic of Exercises and Tests with an emphasis on exercise documentation. This month we will continue our focus on exercise design and development with an emphasis on exercise conduct.

Exercise Conduct Characteristics

The FEMA Independent Study course IS-120a - An Introduction to Exercises tells us, “Discussion-based and operations-based exercises not only differ in their complexity and in their planning processes, but there are key differences in how the two types of exercises are conducted.” It also tells us that their conduct differs in five different characteristics: time, venue, equipment, Number of participants and participant activities, and number of planning team members and their activities.”

Discussion-Based Exercises

Discussion-based exercises consist of presentations and facilitated/moderated or guided participant discussions, usually in an indoor venue. Setup for the exercise usually includes registration, refreshments, and identification tags. The exercise requires some audiovisual equipment and tables/chairs for the participants. For some discussion-based exercises, separate break-out rooms will be necessary. The discussions themselves occur either as a whole group, in breakout sessions, or both. Moderators and facilitators are used to “keep the discussions on track to meet exercise objectives.”

A guided presentation usually will involve some type of multimedia presentation using video, sound, and graphics. The facilitator uses some type of multimedia presentation to introduce the module scenario narratives. On the other hand, a facilitated/moderated discussion is often led by functional subject matter experts to guide discussion aimed at meeting the exercise objectives without intervening in the discussions themselves. They guide the participants to collectively reach its own conclusions before moving onto the next module.

When the module discussions are completed and the exercise objectives met, the facilitators/moderators distribute and review participant feedback forms, and they conduct a “hot wash” with the participants, allowing them to voice their concerns. They offer potential improvements while the experience is still fresh in participants’ minds. The debriefing activies are completed with the exercise planners, facilitators, controllers, and evaluators reviewing and providing feedback on the exercise.

To keep the discussions on track, facilitators/moderators can use different methods. The first is to hold separate, by functional expertise, facilitated group discussions of the scenario and objectives. The second method is for a lead facilitator/moderator to control group discussions, where everyone participates, and to have group spokespersons summarize the group discussions. The third method is to use a combination of the two methods.

The personnel who participate in discussion-based exercises include: presenters who deliver the exercise presentation; facilitators/moderators who lead group discussions; controllers who interpret rules and provide players with information; evaluators who observe and collect exercise data; players who discuss issues based on professional knowledge and plans; and observers/VIPs who observe but do not participate in the exercise. For smaller exercises, these positions may be combined.

Operations-Based Exercises

By contrast with discussion-based exercises, operations-based exercises “involve the deployment and use of personnel, equipment, communications, and actual or simulated performance of operations,” making setup more complicated. According to IS-230c, operations-based exercise setup may include designating a response route (routes to the simulated incident), a response area (a location for exercise activities), an assembly area (a location of deployable resources participating in the exercise), an observer/media area (a designated viewing area), a simulation cell (a location for generating scenario injects), a registration area (to ensure only authorized personnel are allowed on scene), and a parking area for exercise personnel, including any observers and VIPs. Because of the large number of personnel and equipment involved, coordinating logistics is critical to a successful exercise.

Instead of the presentations and guided discussions of discussion-based exercises, operations-based exercises employ briefings. These briefings are used to “train and/or inform exercise participants; to provide safety information to all personnel; are different for controllers, evaluators, players, and actors; and explain exercise play rules (which vary for each exercise).

Exercise play rules are necessary, because participants may engage in physical contact with one another, they can become overemotional, or their actions during the exercise can become excessive and even aggressive. Operations-based exercises, therefore, need exercise play rules that describe appropriate behavior during the exercise for the participants. They are stringent and formalized and are designed as “a safety net to prevent physical harm to individuals or damage to property.”

Another difference is the use of exercise controllers, who keep track of the exercise, and evaluators, who assess exercise performance against exercise objectives and references. The controllers’ function is to “plan and manage exercise play, set up and operate the exercise incident site, and sometimes simulate non-participating organizations.” The evaluators’ function is to “track action relative to evaluation objectives, identify any resolved and unresolved issues, help analyze the exercise results, and participate in post-exercise meetings and critiques.

When the exercise objectives are met and the exercise is ended, the wrap-up activities are the same as they are for discussion-based exercises – distributing and reviewing participant feedback forms, conducting a “hot wash,” and conducting debriefings.

Examination References

As for the previous standards, NFPA 1600 does not describe how to conduct an emergency management exercise. For the exam, we need to refer back to various FEMA Independent Study Courses and the HSEEP Manual. Review independent study courses related to exercises such as IS-120a An Introduction to Exercises for the core questions. U.S. 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 Prevention, 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 (being sure to cover all of the KSAs).

Practice Questions

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

1. Which of the following exercises usually require additional logistical considerations?

a. Discussion-based.
b. Operations-based.
c. Seminars.
d. Workshops.

This question is asking you to understand the difference between discussion-based and operations-based exercises regarding logistical support. We know that operations-based exercises require more logistical support because of the movement of people and equipment, while discussion-based exercises usually require limited logistical support. So by inspection, we see that three of the responses are actually discussion-based exercises and only one is operations-based. Therefore, the correct response is b. (See IS 120.a. and the HSEEP Manual.)

2. Exercise players participate in all but which one of the following exercise meetings?

a. Debriefings.
b. Facilitated/moderated discussions.
c. Guided presentations.
d. Hotwash.

This question is asking you to recall the various types of meetings used with both types of exercises and know who should be an audience member. By definition, a debriefing is “a forum for planners, facilitators, controllers, and evaluators to review and provide feedback on the exercise.” Players are not invited. Facilitated/moderated discussions and guided presentations are meetings with exercise players in discussion-based exercises, so they have to attend. Likewise, a hotwash is a “participant feedback session immediately following an exercise giving, players a chance to voice concerns and offer potential improvements while the experience is still fresh.” Therefore, the correct response is a. (See IS 120.a., IS-139, and the HSEEP Manual.)

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 will continue our discussion on Exercises and Tests, with a focus on exercise development and an emphasis on exercise evaluation. We also will analyze some practice exam questions. As usual, please send any questions you have about the examination or the IAEM certification process to me at info@iaem.com, and I will address them in future articles.

IAEM Bulletin, August 2017

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