HSEEP Cycle: Strategy Planning, Design and Development, Conduct, Evaluation, Improvement Planning

Exercises are a fundamental part of emergency management, bringing together and strengthening the whole community in its efforts to prevent, protect against, limit the damage of, respond to, and recover from all hazards. Exercises are conducted to validate plans, policies, and procedures, test equipment, identify gaps in training, and establish best practices.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has adopted the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) as the set of guiding principles for our exercise programs. This provides a common approach to exercise program management, design and development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning.

Principles and Goals of Exercises

Fundamental principles of are HSEEP are:

  • Guidance from elected and appointed officials
  • Capability-based, objective-driven
  • Progressive planning approach
  • Whole community integration
  • Informed by risk
  • Common methodology

Exercises should:

  • Be conducted in a no-fault learning environment
  • Reference valid plans, SOPs, and policies
  • Build in complexity and sophistication without overwhelming participants
  • Identify gaps in resources, training, or plans
  • Be used as a tool to effect positive change, not place blame

Comprehensive exercise programs are comprised of discussion-based and operations-based exercises. Both types are necessary for a well-rounded preparedness cycle.

Discussion-Based Exercises


Seminars provide an overview of authorities, strategies, plans, policies, procedures, protocols, and resources. There are a variety of tools used to measure the knowledge gained through seminars, including pre/post-tests, surveys, and participant feedback forms.


Workshops are focused on a specific issue and should be guided with the intent to build a product such as new standard operating procedures (SOPs), emergency operations plans, continuity of operations plans, or mutual aid agreements.


A Tabletop Exercise (TTX) uses a hypothetical, simulated emergency to validate plans and procedures, rehearse concepts, and/or assess the level of preparedness through an interactive discussion.

Operations-Based Exercises


Drills are conducted to validate a specific function or capability. They have a narrow focus with clearly defined plans, procedures, and protocols in place to be followed.


Functional Exercises (FEs) are operations-based simulations that should be designed to validate and evaluate capabilities and functions of interdependent groups. FEs focus on decision-making, direction, command, and control in a realistic, real-time environment. However, movement of personnel and equipment is simulated.


Full-Scale Exercises (FSEs) are conducted in stressful environments in near real-time, and are intended to mirror an actual incident. Personnel and resources may be mobilized and deployed to a scene as if a real incident had occurred.

Exercise Training Opportunities

There are several training opportunities available to develop and enhance exercise programs. Courses are offered through Independent Study (IS), instructor-led classroom delivery, and webinar formats.

Independent Study Courses

IS-120a: An Introduction to Exercises
IS-130: Exercise Evaluation and Improvement Planning
IS-139: Exercise Design

How to apply:  http://www.training.fema.gov/is/

Master Exercise Practitioner Program (MEPP)

MEPP is a series of three courses (E0132, E0133, and E0136) that focus on advanced exercise design, conduct, and evaluation practices in each phase of HSEEP. MEPP assigns candidates to an Exercise Planning Team where they are challenged to demonstrate their expertise at all levels of exercise design and conduct through in-class and take-home proficiency demonstrations. Candidates apply best practices and lessons learned from their organizations and experiences as well as key learning concepts from the MEPP curriculum to assignments.

How to apply:  http://www.training.fema.gov/mepp/howtoapply.aspx

Hazard City

Demonstrating with toy cars and trucks on outline of map of a city

The Hazard City Tabletop kit provides training resources to support the instruction of the Incident Command System (ICS), validate plans and procedures, rehearse concepts, and assess the level of preparedness through an interactive discussion. Hazard City allows first responders and support agencies to learn and build on ICS processes by providing a unique hands-on environment where they can role play and simulate a real-life event. To learn more about Hazard City, contact the Training and Exercise Unit.