Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 6)

Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 6)

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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 a focus on exercise design and development with an emphasis on exercise evaluation. This month our emphasis is on improvement planning and the Improvement Plan.

Exercise Improvement Planning Process

A key concept on why we exercise our plan, policies, procedures, and equipment is to make improvements in how we prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against all hazards. The means for accomplishing this is through the Improvement Planning Process. FEMA Independent Study Course IS-120b, An Introduction to Exercises, tells us that “the Improve- ment Planning Process is the means for converting recommendations from the After-Action Report (AAR) into measurable steps that, when implemented, lead to improved response capabilities.”

As we learned last month, our exercise evaluations are “based on a comparison of the actual results of the participants’ decisions and actions as compared to the expected outcomes during the exercise. The gaps our evaluation team identifies then form the basis for the Improvement Plan.” FEMA Independent Study courses IS-120b, An Introduction to Exercises, and IS-130a, Exercise Evaluation and Improvement Planning, describe this as the last three steps in the “8-Step Process” we referred to last month:

  • Step 6: Identify improvement(s) to be implemented;
  • Step 7: Finalize AAR and Improvement Plan; and
  • Step 8: Track implementation.

The Improvement Plan

The Improvement Plan (IP) provides “a task list and timeline of corrective actions.” It is a matrix (a rectangular arrangement of ele- ments into rows and columns) containing:

  • tasks;
  • recommendations;
  • improvement actions;
  • responsible party/parties; and
  • completion date.

The tasks in the matrix come from the Exercise Evaluation Guides. The recommendations and improvement actions are taken from the body of the After Action Report in coordination with the stakeholders. This is a standard project management tool that allows for easy tracking because it contains specific, measureable action items, and it identifies a responsible party for accountability, which helps ensure the recommendation is carried out in a timely manner.

When developing the IP, be sure it “establishes realistic priorities for the use of limited resources,” as no jurisdiction, agency, or organization has unlimited resources. It is also possible that every suggested improvement may not be achievable as conceived. IS-120b says planners should:

  • Prioritize (action items) according to benefits rather than costs;
  • Use local resources as much as possible;
  • Have a solid method for monitoring improvements;
  • Regularly review improvement progress; and
  • Review potential alternatives if progress is not being made.

During implementation, keep in mind that we may identify additional needs and tasks. We also may identify roadblocks to achieving improvements, which may highlight issues not previously recognized.

The Improvement Plan also needs to include attainable benchmarks allowing us to measure progress towards implementation. IS-130a provides three examples of benchmarks we may use:

  • the number of personnel trained in a task;
  • the percentage of equipment that is up-to-date; and
  • the finalization of an inter-agency agreement within a given amount of time.

Two Cautions

IS-130a provides us with two cautions regarding the Improvement Plan. The first one tells us some “recommendations will lead to clear corrective actions that can be defined at the After Action Conference. Other corrective actions cannot be identified without additional information. For these items, the IP matrix should specify at least the first step in the process.”

The second caution tells us the Improvement Plan needs to be a “Stakeholder-driven Process.” Specifically, IS-130a states, “The IP may be driven by the exercise planners, but it will be carried out by the organizations that participated in the exercise. For that reason, participating organizations must fully support the IP, especially its sections on assigning responsibility and establishing timelines for completion.” Without stakeholder participation and agreement, their desire to actually implement the recommended improvements will be greatly diminished as they had no say in their development and assignment.

Examination References

As for the previous standards, NFPA 1600 does not describe how to conduct an emergency manage- ment exercise or an Improvement Process, so 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, and IS-130a, Exercise Evaluation and Improvement Planning, 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 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 exercise tools (documents) con- tains measureable steps that, when implemented, lead to improved response capabilities?

a. Exercise Evaluation Guides.
b. Exercise Evaluation Plan.
c. Improvement Plan.
d. Situation Manual.

This question is asking you to know what information and data the various exercise program documents contain, their purpose, and how the documents are used. While the Exercise Evaluation Guides do contain measureable action items, their achievement is not used for improved response. The Exercise Evaluation Plan is a document that helps exercise evaluators understand their roles and responsibilities. The Improvement Plan by definition does contain measureable steps, that when implemented, lead to improved response capabilities. The Situation Manual is the participant handbook for discussion-based exercises. Therefore, the correct response is c. (See IS 120.b, IS-130a, and the HSEEP Manual.)

2. Who identifies each area for improvement listed in the Improvement Plan matrix?

a. Evaluators.
b. Exercise Participants.
c. Observers.
d. Stakeholders.

This question is asking you to recall who develops the content for the Improvement Plan. Specifically, know who decides which areas for improvement are described therein. Following the exercise, Evaluators and Exercise Planners assist in preparing the draft After Action Report and Improvement Plan matrix, which lists the areas for improvement. Then, during the After Action Conference, exercise participants, officials, and other stakeholders determine the details of the Improvement Plan matrix. Therefore, the correct response is a. See IS 120.b, IS-139a, 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. It is too easy to get distracted and select a response that appears to be correct but is not the correct response for the question being asked.

Next CEM Corner

Next month we continue our discussion on Exercises and Tests, with a focus on exercise develop ment and an emphasis on how the evaluators determine which areas for improvement get listed in the Improvement Plan. 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, October 2017

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