Reducing the Impact of Disasters Through Education
State Information

Emergency Exercise Participation and Evaluation

Julie Smith, University of Vermont, Lynette Black, Oregon State University, Linda Williams, Montana State University

The Extension System is uniquely positioned to participate in emergency exercises formally or informally with the goal of engaging community members in emergency and disaster preparedness. With their knowledge of community needs, Extension personnel are valuable resources and can assist emergency managers in the process of identifying local risks and vulnerabilities as well as capabilities that should be tested and strengthened through the process of exercises. Extension brings to the table diverse and research-based expertise, program evaluation skills, and connections to local communities, all of which can contribute to conducting successful exercises. By facilitating, participating in, or evaluating exercises, Extension professionals can help communities better prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters. Furthermore, exercise conduct and evaluation could be a useful tool for measuring the impact of Extension activities related to emergency preparedness.

Event simulations or “exercises” are useful ways to educate and evaluate. Both real and fictional scenarios are often used by Extension educators when engaging audiences in learning. Real and fictional incident scenarios are used by emergency managers to evaluate adequacy of planning, training, and equipping responders. Extension personnel can provide informational resources and can utilize existing relationships with community organizations, commodity groups and regulatory agencies to support their local or state exercise programs. The relationships Extension personnel have in communities are extremely valuable. By partnering with emergency management, the Extension System can help the traditional emergency management community overcome one of its historic challengesbringing the right people to the table.

Extension personnel in all program areas have opportunities to incorporate emergency preparedness and disaster resilience topics into their outreach programs. Exercises present an interactive and effective means to engage with a variety of audiences. Specific to agrosecurity issues, Extension is well-positioned to facilitate exercises involving the food and agriculture sector, such as events resulting in many livestock or poultry deaths, pesticide contamination of feed, or disease outbreaks with human health risks.

Summary of Literature

Responders at the local, state, and national level must be prepared to respond to all incidents, large and small, according to the guidelines set out in the National Response Framework (NRF; USDHS, 2008). Exercises are part of the preparedness cycle set forth in the NRF. Exercises are particularly important in allowing key actors to practice organizing the response according to National Incident Management System (NIMS; USDHS, 2007d) principles and applying the Incident Command System (ICS).

The National Preparedness Guidelines (USDHS, 2007e) address preparedness for each of what are referred to as the four homeland security mission areas:  prevention, protection, response, and recovery. The Guidelines take a capabilities-based approach and establish national priorities and associated capabilities. Three planning tools were developed to facilitate achieving the preparedness goals set by the Guidelines: the National Planning Scenarios, the Target Capabilities List (TCL), and the Universal Task List (UTL). Many of the identified target capabilities are relevant to Extension. For example, Extension could easily play a role in the following areas: Community Preparedness and Participation; Intelligence/Information Sharing and Dissemination; Food and Agriculture Safety and Defense; Animal Disease Emergency Support; Emergency Public Information and Warning; Volunteer Management and Donations; and Economic and Community Recovery.

The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP; USDHS, 2007a, b, c) provides common exercise policy and program guidance that constitutes a national standard for exercises. This standard is expected to be used by state emergency management agencies and response organizations but can be followed by any organization or group. Language and concepts from the NRF, the NIMS, the National Preparedness Guidelines, the UTL, and the TCL are integrated in HSEEP training. The HSEEP Program includes numerous tools that could provide Extension professionals with a basis for working on disaster preparedness and recovery issues and exercises. HSEEP training can lay an important conceptual framework for those outside of the traditional emergency management community, such as Extension professionals, who are working in disaster-related programs with adults or youth.

Types of exercises vary in complexity and intensity from discussion-based activities (including seminars, workshops, tabletop exercises, and games) to operations-based activities (such as drills, functional and full-scale exercises). Exercises should be selected and developed in conjunction with the training and exercise needs of the participating individuals and entities. The exercise cycle is explained in detail in the HSEEP Volumes (USDHS, 2007a, b, c). Its five phases are strategy planning, design and development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning. These bear strong similarities to Extension program development best practices.

The National Preparedness Guidelines (USDHS, 2007e, p.10) state, "The challenge for government officials, working with the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and individual citizens, is to determine the best way to build capabilities for bolstering preparedness and achieving the Guidelines." The Extension System can be part of the solution since it has established itself as a trustworthy linkage between land grant universities and clientele in communities across the country.

Extension's Roles

Extension and emergency management come together in most states under the state support function related to agriculture and natural resources, but Extension may be named in other support functions as well. Extension can be involved in all aspects of managing an incident: prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Extension has historically been most involved in preparedness, prevention, and recovery efforts, thus serving to complement the emphasis of traditional emergency management agencies on response. To fulfill the expectations of emergency management at the state, county or local levels, Extension professionals must first understand the NIMS and the ICS. Participation in exercises is critical to evaluate actual response capacity and identify additional training or equipment needs. Extension’s participation in exercises, however, may go beyond simply assessing our own capacity to respond. Extension professionals can also participate in the following ways:

  • Promote exercises involving agricultural, family, youth and community development issues;
  • Help design, plan and/or facilitate exercises;
  • Serve as evaluators, simulators, or players in exercises; or
  • Encourage involvement of 4-H families and other volunteers to serve as exercise victims.

Additional roles include:

  • Networking with state and county or local emergency management and voluntary organizations active in disaster (VOADs);
  • Facilitating and conducting training by incorporating principles of emergency preparedness and planning into current programs;
  • Facilitating engagement of internal audience of Extension professionals in disaster preparedness; and
  • Promoting the role of Extension and resources of the Extension Disaster Education Network.

Examples of involvement with exercises include the following.

  • An Extension System “Inbox exercise” has been conducted to test emergency response protocols;
  • 4-H youth involved in Teen Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) have been involved in exercises of their response roles or as victim simulators; and
  • An agrosecurity tabletop exercise was coordinated to get conversations going among response organizations about issues not ordinarily encountered.

First steps

In order for the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) to build capacity within the Extension System to engage with emergency management in exercise conduct and evaluation, the following actions can be accomplished with existing or minimal additional funds:

  • Develop a work group to facilitate information exchange through the Extension System;
  • Identify Extension personnel who are active in emergency management or exercise programs in their states;
  • Foster sharing of experiences to encourage additional Extension personnel to be involved in emergency management and exercises;
  • Provide national professional development webinars or workshops on the ICS for Extension System personnel; and
  • Support professional development training of some number of Extension personnel to become certified exercise planners or evaluators.

An EDEN Exercise Group has recently been established with Linda Williams as the point person for facilitating discussions and exchange of information on its SharePoint site. Based on the response to this newly created Exercise Group, it is clear that many Extension personnel are interested in getting involved in or are already engaged in conducting or participating in emergency management exercises. A questionnaire through SurveyMonkey or another survey platform could be used to better characterize the ways Extension personnel already are or want to be engaged in emergency management activities and exercises. 

The EDEN Professional Development committee has been discussing ways to facilitate ICS training for Extension personnel who want it. Some organizational resistance to system-wide training has been noted. Moving the conversation to ways that Extension can demonstrate its role in the various aspects of emergency management, especially where traditional response organizations lack capacity, may be more successful. Extension’s roles in responding to disasters are many and varied. Engaging in exercises at the local and state level is another way to make sure Extension resources are recognized and integrated with the emergency management system. 

Extension has embraced evaluation as a means to demonstrate impact. Our expertise in that area can easily translate to evaluation of emergency exercises, but training is required to be certified in that context. Being plugged into exercises of national scope as an evaluator would give us a critical perspective on emergency management and how Extension resources can be better publicized and utilized. Perhaps a voluntary program could be established offering an incentive to Extension personnel who conduct HSEEP exercises or evaluate state, regional, or national exercises by covering travel expenses to present on that activity at the EDEN annual meeting.

Milestone                                                                               Target date

Establish work group                                                            Created winter 2011

Evaluate Extension engagement nationwide                  Conduct survey summer 2011

Conduct ICS webinars/workshops                                     Launch webinar series beginning Sept 2011/pre-conference training at annual meeting

Certify exercise planners/evaluators                                Invite to present at 2012 annual meeting


Individuals throughout the Extension System and collectively through the EDEN have the opportunity to become more engaged in emergency and disaster preparedness activities by planning, participating in, or evaluating exercises. An EDEN Exercise SharePoint Group has recently been established to facilitate sharing of experiences and ideas among individuals with diverse expertise and varying levels of experience with exercises. This group has demonstrated a high level of interest in expanding Extension's role in exercise participation at the local, state and national level. Given the diversity of disciplines represented and having strong community connections, the Extension System is well positioned to engage in exercises in a number of ways that will increase our profile and result in enhanced community resilience. In the future, Extension personnel could take a lead role in creating platforms for conducting in-person or virtual tabletop exercises, particularly related to agricultural incidents.


United States Department of Homeland Security. (2007a). Homeland security exercise and evaluation program (HSEEP) Volume I: HSEEP overview and exercise program management. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Department of Homeland Security. (2007b). Homeland security exercise and evaluation program (HSEEP) Volume II: Exercise planning and conduct. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Department of Homeland Security. (2007c). Homeland security exercise and evaluation program (HSEEP) Volume III: Exercise evaluation and improvement planning. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Department of Homeland Security. (2007d). National incident management system. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Department of Homeland Security. (2007e). National preparedness guidelines. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Department of Homeland Security. (2008). National response framework. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Last Updated:12/13/2011 8:39 AM

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