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Before an Event: Conducting Exercises

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National Incident Management System (NIMS)

Current federal policy requires state and local governments, including water systems, to follow the National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS training includes information about Incident Command System (ICS) operations, including communication protocols and procedures. ICS provides an organizational structure for sharing information among involved agencies and distributing information to the public.

For more information about NIMS in the Water Sector and ICS, see Appendix B: Online Resources, National Incident Management System (NIMS).resource icon

Did You Know?

Exercises can be for one water system or multiple systems and partners.

Plan Exercises

Preparation for a drinking water advisory entails the consideration of a range of situations relevant to the water system and its community so that:
  • Pertinent information is compiled and evaluated to support sound decisions.
  • Credibility with customers is maintained through coordination with state and local agencies.
  • Public outreach is effective.

The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) provides a standardized methodology and terminology for exercise design implementation and evaluation. For more information, see Appendix B: Online Resources, Exercise Planning and Preparedness.resource icon

It is not possible to plan for every contingency. Water systems, public health, emergency management, and other public agencies can select a set of situations in which they can define roles and responsibilities, appropriate outreach strategies, and SOPs. For a list of some possible scenarios, see Appendix B: Online Resources, Exercise Planning and Preparedness.resource icon

Conduct Exercises

A communication network for issuing drinking water advisories must be tested in advance to determine if it works and where gaps in outreach remain. Testing the network can prevent illness and even save lives during a real drinking water advisory event. Exercises are one way to test the network.

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For small-scale exercises, see the Exercise Planning Template in Section 1 and Debriefing Ground Rules, Modifying Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and the Debriefing Discussion Guide in Section 3. [DOC - 1 page]

  • Seminars, workshops, tabletop exercises, games, drills, functional exercises, and full-scale exercises are terms for various types of practice sessions based on a scenario. A scenario could include developing messages and testing the dissemination of an advisory.
  • Larger events can include other agencies and can evaluate collaboration.
  • Exercises can be scaled to the size of an advisory and to community needs.

Exercise Plan

Numerous resources and opportunities exist for exercises. While most of these resources are associated with preparedness and security, they can be used for the full range of advisories. All-hazards planning can incorporate advisory scenarios. After action reports, comments, and observations are used to revise communication and operations protocols.

Exercise Basics

Exercises come in many sizes and creating them can seem complex. Water systems have multiple opportunities for exercises. Both small exercises limited to the water system or water sector and larger drills and exercises at the community and state level are important in community planning. These exercises help water systems connect with public health, emergency management, and other sectors to build relationships and networks in preparation for advisories.

Exercise resources in this Toolbox give some basic tools for water systems to create and conduct their own drinking water advisory exercises. These exercises can be scaled for water system staff and other partners, such as public health. See Appendix B: Online Resources, Exercise Planning and Preparedness.resource icon

  • Design a scenario: Scenarios can be based on an actual advisory or can test a new protocol. The scenario should unfold in stages; participants act on one decision point or action before moving to the next.
  • Organizing the exercise: In-house exercises should be part of staff training or water quality meetings. Planning committees for water system or multiple agency exercises can assist in organizing exercises.
    See Exercise Planning Template.tool icon[DOC - 2 pages]
  • Conducting the exercise: The exercise should be facilitated. Collect the observations and comments of both the evaluators and the participants.

Debrief and Incorporate Changes into Protocols

Immediately after an exercise, debrief with participants to go over what went well and what needs to improve. Comments and results from the exercise and debriefing are analyzed. Some debriefings plan next steps and how to move forward. Exercise evaluation results are used to identify opportunities to improve advisory communication. Use the information to update both contacts and protocols.

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