Public safety and emergencies – guidance

Emergency planning and preparedness: exercises and training

How to run exercises and training for emergency planning and preparedness, with an introduction to the Central Government Emergency Response Training (CGERT) Course.

Overview

The government aims to ensure all organisations are fully prepared for all types of emergencies.

Integral to that is the practising and testing of all the elements of emergency plans. This guide outlines what we mean by exercising, describes different types of exercise, and outlines the exercising which takes place at all levels of government. It also provides some specific examples of recent exercises.

Training staff who are involved in emergency planning and response is fundamental to an organisation’s ability to handle any type of emergency. This guide also outlines the aims of training in this context, describes different types of training, and points out the emphasis placed on training within the Civil Contingencies Act. It also introduces the Central Government Emergency Response Training (CGERT) Course, which is designed to equip people with the knowledge, skills and awareness necessary for their role in crisis management at the national strategic level.

Emergency planning exercises

An exercise is a simulation of an emergency situation.

Exercises have 3 main purposes:

  • to validate plans (validation)
  • to develop staff competencies and give them practice in carrying out their roles in the plans (training)
  • to test well-established procedures (testing)

Why it is important to hold exercises

Planning for emergencies cannot be considered reliable until it is exercised and has proved to be workable, especially since false confidence may be placed in the integrity of a written plan.

Generally, participants in exercises should have an awareness of their roles and be reasonably comfortable with them, before they are subject to the stresses of an exercise. Exercising is not to catch people out. It tests procedures, not people. If staff are under-prepared, they may blame the plan, when they should blame their lack of preparation and training. An important aim of an exercise should be to make people feel more comfortable in their roles and to build morale.

Types of exercises

There are 3 main types of exercise:

  • discussion-based
  • table top
  • live

A fourth category combines elements of the other 3.

The choice of which one to adopt depends on what the purpose of the exercise is. It is also a question of lead-in time and available resources.

Discussion-based exercises

Discussion-based exercises are cheapest to run and easiest to prepare. They can be used at the policy formulation stage as a ‘talk-through’ of how to finalise the plan. More often, they are based on a completed plan and are used to develop awareness about the plan through discussion. In this respect, they are often used for training purposes.

Table top exercises

Table top exercises are based on simulation, not necessarily literally around a table top. Usually, they involve a realistic scenario and a time line, which may be real time or may speed time up.

Usually table tops are run in a single room, or in a series of linked rooms which simulate the divisions between responders who need to communicate and be co-ordinated. The players are expected to know the plan and they are invited to test how the plan works as the scenario unfolds.

This type of exercise is particularly useful for validation purposes, particularly for exploring weaknesses in procedures. Table-top exercises are relatively cheap to run, except in the use of staff time. They demand careful preparation.

Live exercises

Live exercises are a live rehearsal for implementing a plan. Such exercises are particularly useful for testing logistics, communications and physical capabilities.

They also make excellent training events from the point of view of experiential learning, helping participants develop confidence in their skills and providing experience of what it would be like to use the plan’s procedures in a real event. Where the latter purposes are, in fact, the main objective of the exercise, then it is essentially a training exercise or practice drill.

Live exercises are expensive to set up on the day and demand the most extensive preparation.

The government’s exercise programme

The government has in place a co-ordinated cross-governmental exercise programme covering a comprehensive range of domestic disruptive challenges, including accidents, natural disasters and acts of terrorism.

The programme is designed to test rigorously the concept of operations from the coordinated central response through the range of lead government department responsibilities and the involvement of the devolved administrations, from central government to local responders.

In addition, local authorities and the emergency services develop their own programme of exercises to test capabilities at the local level.

This nationwide rolling programme of exercises is designed to ensure we have the best possible contingency plans in place to respond to a whole range of civil emergency scenarios.

The UK also observes or participates with international partners in exercises, either through multilateral fora, such as the G8, NATO and the EU, or on a bilateral basis.

Exercising under the Civil Contingencies Act

The Civil Contingencies Act Regulations require Category 1 responders to include provision for the carrying out of exercises and for the training of staff in emergency plans. The same or similar requirements for exercising and training also apply to business continuity plans and arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public (see the section on warning and informing the public).

This means that relevant planning documents must contain a statement about the nature of the training and exercising to be provided and its frequency.

Useful documents

You should refer to:


Emergency preparedness training

Training is about raising the awareness of key staff about what the emergencies are that they may face and giving them confidence in the procedures an organisation uses and their ability to carry them out successfully. It is also about developing competencies and skill-sets so that staff can fulfil key roles.

Organisations should consider 2 broad types of training:

  • emergency preparedness - training key staff to carry out risk assessment, business continuity management (BCM) and emergency planning
  • emergency response - training staff to carry out response functions when an emergency occurs

Why training is necessary

It is important that all those within an organisation who may be involved in planning for and responding to an emergency should be appropriately prepared. This requires a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and how they fit into the wider picture.

Without training, an organisation and its staff will quickly become overwhelmed by an emergency, unable to handle its impacts and recover from them.

Who should train

Any staff who could be involved in emergency planning or response should receive appropriate training. But training should also extend beyond those employed by the organisation and include contractors and the staff of voluntary organisations who might be used in support of emergency planning or response.

Training for emergency preparedness

Any organisation will need appropriately trained people who are capable of conducting risk assessment, business continuity management and emergency planning. These three processes underpin an organisation’s preparedness for emergencies, and their ability to respond and recover effectively.

The sections on risk, business continuity and emergency planning provide more detail on these processes.

More generally, these key people (such as Emergency Planning Officers in Local Authorities) will need to provide leadership and a focus for emergency preparedness to ensure the ongoing processes of risk assessment, BCM and planning are taken seriously at all levels of an organisation. As the central authors of an organisation’s emergency plans, they will also be looked to for direction if an emergency occurs and plans must be carried out.

Training for emergency response

Training should be provided for all staff that will be involved in implementing an emergency plan or business continuity plan, and anyone else who may have a role in emergency response and recovery. All these people will need to feel confident and competent in any role they may take.

A rolling training programme will be needed to account for staff turn-over, and also to ensure all staff are regularly refreshed and practised in emergency response. Training should include:

  • the contents of the plan - how is the emergency or business continuity plan invoked? What are the key decision-making processes? Who else needs to be involved?
  • the individual’s role in implementing the plan - what is expected of them? How do they fit into the wider picture?
  • key skills and knowledge required in crisis response

Exercises are both a type of training, and a distinct type of emergency preparedness. Exercises have 3 main purposes: to validate plans; to develop staff competencies and give them practice in carrying out their roles in emergency plans (training); and to test well-established procedures. It is important that people taking part in exercises should be trained beforehand. Participants should have an awareness of their roles and be reasonably comfortable with them, before they are subject to the stresses of an exercise.

The exercises section provides more detail.

The Emergency Planning College

The Emergency Planning College (EPC) is the leading provider of training for emergency preparedness, attracting delegates with responsibility for preventing, planning for, responding to or recovering from a major incident.

It is the only permanent national forum for representatives of local and Central government, the emergency services, the private sector and volunteer groups to network and share good practice.

The Emergency Planning College is situated at the heart of government, within the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) of the Cabinet Office.

The college runs courses on risk assessment, business continuity management and emergency planning, and on emergency management (response) and a range of specialist courses which cover specific aspects of emergency management (eg. warning and informing, care of people and severe weather).

Training under the Civil Contingencies Act

The Civil Contingencies Act Regulations require Category 1 responders to include provision for the carrying out of exercises and for the training of staff in emergency plans (see the emergency planning and exercises sections). The same or similar requirements for exercising and training apply too to business continuity plans (see the business continuity section) and arrangements to warn, inform and advise the public (see the section on warning and informing the public).

This means that relevant planning documents must contain a statement about the nature of the training and exercising to be provided and its frequency.

Important documents

You should refer to:

  • Emergency Preparedness
    • Chapter 4 - Local responder risk assessment duty
    • Annex 4A - Summary of the six-step local risk assessment process
    • Annex 4B - Illustration of a Local Risk Assessment Guidance (LRAG)
    • Annex 4C - Example of an individual risk assessment
    • Annex 4D - Likelihood and impact scoring scales
    • Annex 4E - Community Risk Register
    • Annex 4F - Risk rating matrix
    • Chapter 5 - Emergency planning
    • Annex 5a - Examples of generic and specific plans
    • Annex 5B - Generic plan: emergency or major incident
    • Annex 5C - Specific plan
    • Annex 5D - Example of a plan maintenance matrix for a local authority
    • Chapter 6 - Business continuity management
    • Chapter 7 - Communicating with the public
    • Annex 7A - Communicating with the public: the national context
    • Annex 7B - Lead responsibility for warning and informing the public
    • Annex 7C - Checklist of suggested protocols
  • Emergency Response and Recovery - outlines the various aspects of emergency response that will need to be trained and exercised for
  • Home Office guidance: The Exercise Planners Guide (1998)

Central Government Emergency Response Training (CGERT)

The aim of the CGERT programme is to demonstrate the requisite knowledge, skills and awareness required to undertake roles in crisis management at the national strategic level.

The programme is designed for all emergency response colleagues from across departments, agencies and other response organisations who will work in or with the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR) during times of national emergencies.

The CGERT programme has 3 overarching objectives:

  • provide delegates with a good knowledge of the processes, procedures and allocation of responsibilities in crisis management
  • help delegates consider the skills and techniques required to enable effective and timely pan-government crisis decision making
  • illustrate the unique working styles and leadership qualities necessary when working in or with COBR

The programme is modular in nature and individual objectives vary according to audience groups. All participants should undertake modules 1 and 2, then one further module appropriate to grade and role.

The training modules are structured as follows:

Module 1 (e-learning): Introduction to the concepts of crisis management at the national strategic level

Description: an overview of the key doctrine and guidance which underpin the organisation of crisis management.

Target audience: any role that will involve working in COBR or as an interface between a department/agency and COBR.

Duration: directed reading that can be completed at a time and pace of the delegates’ choice. A ‘check of understanding’ is included in subsequent modules and attendees will be required to apply that knowledge during the programme.

The directed reading list, with links to key documents, will be available shortly.

Interim material which compromises the pre reading element of the programme is currently available here:

CGERT: module 1 directed reading

Module 2: Introduction to UK central emergency response arrangements and the underpinning principles and doctrine

Description: familiarisation with the role of COBR, supporting structures and key procedures and processes.

Target audience: any role that will involve working in COBR or as an interface between a department/agency and COBR.

Pre-requisite modules: Module 1 (directed reading/e-learning)

Duration: 2 hour presentation with question and answer session. This module also includes a tour of the COBR complex.

Module 3: Information management and support to crisis decision-making

Description: Exploring the concept of shared situational awareness to working practices in COBR, and in departments and agencies working with COBR.

Target audience: any staff at a desk officer level working within a lead department or other government department to provide situational awareness.

Pre-requisite modules: Module 1 (directed reading/e-learning) and Module 2.

Duration: a 4-hour interactive workshop, incorporating exercise play in syndicates with plenary debriefs.

Module 4: Strategic crisis decision-making

Description: an exploration of the strategic issues for senior civil servants arising from their input into the national crisis management arrangements.

Target audience: senior civil servants who will have responsibility of running a crisis response team.

Pre-requisite modules: Module 1 (directed reading / e-learning) and Module 2.

Duration: a 4-hour interactive workshop, incorporating exercise play in syndicates with plenary debriefs.

Key information

All CGERT modules are provided free of charge. Modules 2, 3 and 4 will take place in one of the Cabinet Office’s central London locations. All delegates attending the training require a minimum of SC clearance.

Separate arrangements also exist to acquaint ministers and senior officials in some of the unique aspects of crisis management leadership and process management.

For general enquiries, please contact cgert@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk or 0207 276 2523.

CGERT training programme: progression routes

Diagram showing progression from module 1 to module 2, and then to either module 4 if the trainee is a senior civil servant, or module 3 if they are not.