Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 8)

Sample Certificate Exam Questions – Exercises and Tests (Exercise Design, Part 8)

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

Our last discussion on the AEM/CEM examination discussed the topic of Exercises and Tests, with a focus on exercise design and development with an emphasis on how the evaluators determine the areas for improvement that get listed in the Improvement Plan. This month our emphasis is on generating Corrective Actions listed in the Improvement Plan.

According to FEMA’s Indepen- dent Study Course (IS) 120a – An Introduction to Exercises, a Key Concept of the Improvement Planning process is “to convert recommendations from the After Action Report (AAR) into measurable steps that, when implemented, lead to improved response capabilities.” The means for this conversion is the After Action Conference.

After Action Conference

The After Action Conference is the fifth step in the exercise evaluation and improvement process. This is where the exercise Planning Team, Evaluation Team, official representatives of all participating organizations, and stakeholders from the city, state, region or other jurisdictions meet to “review and refine the draft After Action Report (AAR)…and to prepare the Improvement Plan.

During the conference, attend- ees identify specific improvement actions that organizations can take; they provide feedback and validation of observations and recommendations made by the exercise evaluation team; and they identify key lessons learned from the exercise experience. Afterwards, the finalized After Action Report (AAR) and the Improvement Plan (IP) is distributed.

FEMA’s Independent Study Course, (IS) 130 – Exercise Evaluation and Improvement Planning, states the purpose of the conference is to “develop an Improvement Plan (IP) that articulates specific corrective actions by addressing issues identified in the AAR” through a facilitated discussion with all attendees. The outcome of the discussion “is a list that identifies corrective actions, the organization responsible for completing them, and a timeline for completion.” This list is referred to as the Improvement Plan Matrix and is included in the finalized AAR/IP report.

Improvement Plan Matrix

The Improvement Plan Matrix is different from the Improvement Plan and is often confused with it. The Improvement Plan Matrix is a table or list that consists of nine distinct categories of data. They are: capability; observation title; recom- mendation; corrective action description; capability element; primary responsible agency; agency point-of-contact (POC); start date; and completion date.

It is “a tool used to generate the Improvement Plan narrative and to gain consensus on improvement actions” by those attending the After Action Conference. The Improvement Plan (IP) itself is a narrative description. It “describes changes to be undertaken as a result of lessons learned during the exercise. It describes who will make these changes, as well as the details of their implementation.”

Corrective Action Program

Developing the specific improvements and actions to be implemented is the sixth step in the exercise evaluation and improvement process. A key point to remember is that each “corrective action should contain enough detail to make it useful” as well as being attainable by the organization. Some recommended improvements and corrective actions are easily recognizable and clear, while others will not be as easily identified. For those corrective actions not easily identified, attendees should list at least a first step in the improvement process required to gain further information and more clearly define the necessary improvement actions.

An example might be to seek a policy change. Many steps may be necessary before a revised or new policy is submitted to higher authority for approval. Therefore, the IP matrix would include the first steps in the process the organization is capable of performing. Another issue may be related to a lack of resources. When this is an issue, attendees should establish short- and long-term priorities and goals. Know that even if you only provide details of the short-term steps for improvement, the IP is still considered complete, though the long-term steps were not specified.
When assigning responsibility for the corrective actions, ensure that they are assigned to the organization best qualified to complete the corrective actions and that the organization has the necessary authority to execute the corrective actions.

The Improvement Plan Process is a dynamic rather than a static or one-time program. Organizations should ensure that each item listed in the Improvement Plan Matrix is tracked to completion and that the improvements are implemented. Then organizations should update and modify the Improvement Plan regularly to ensure continuous improvement for a better prepared and more resilient community.

Examination References

As for the previous standards, NFPA 1600 does not describe how to conduct an emergency manage- ment exercise or an Improvement process. 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 Exer- cises and IS 130 – Exercise Evalua- tion and Improvement Planning for the core questions. U.S. candidates should also review the Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Pro- gram (HSEEP) documents.


The application process for both the CEM and 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, Prepared- ness, Response, Recovery, and candidates may choose Exercises and Tests as a key component of their Problem Statement and write about that (being sure to cover all the KSAs).

Practice Questions

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

1. The Improvement Plan Matrix lists each area for improvement. By whom and when are they identified?

a. By evaluators during the exercise.
b. By evaluators in the After Action Report.
c. By stakeholders during the exercise.
d. By stakeholders during the AAR Conference.

This question is asking you to know details of how the Improvement Plan matrix is prepared – specifically, the recommendations for improvement. From previous articles, we know the evaluation team analyzes the results of the exercise and prepares the draft After Action Report. We also know the draft AAR includes a list of recommendations for improvement. Stakeholders provide feedback and additional details; validate those recommendations; and then develop the remaining eight data elements of the Improvement Plan Matrix. Therefore, the only correct response is b. See IS 120a, IS-130, and the HSEEP Manual.

2. What is the outcome of the facilitated discussion held during the After Action Conference?

a. Draft After Action Report
b. Finalized After Action Report
c. Improvement Plan
d. Improvement Plan Matrix

This question is asking you to identify the outcome of the After Evaluation Team develops the draft AAR prior to the After Action Conference, so response a. is incorrect. The Evaluation Team finalizes the AAR after the After Action Conference reviews and provides feedback on the draft. This makes response b. incorrect too. The Improvement Plan is a narrative description that “records what occurred during the exercise, provides feedback on the achievement of capabilities and associated activities, suggests recommendations for improved preparedness, and perhaps most importantly, the AAR/IP is a tool to establish consensus and buy-in on next steps.” This also makes response c. incorrect. By definition, the majority of the After Action Conference time is devoted to developing the Improvement Plan Matrix, which is a table containing nine elements of data. Therefore, the correct response is d. See IS 120a, IS-130, 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 Month

Next month we begin a new discussion on Program Maintenance and Improvement. 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, January 2018

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