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Cover Story

Preparing For the Worst

Elevate your agency's response to emergencies with real-time exercises that test your capabilities.

March 01, 2007  |  by - Also by this author

Whether you've participated in hundreds of emergency response exercises or not a one, a new online resource will benefit you and your agency in planning a real-time scenario-especially if you're interested in federal funding.

A brand new asset to anyone planning an exercise is a new federal government Website that details guidelines for emergency response exercises. According to the HSEEP Website, "The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) is a capabilities and performance-based exercise program that provides a standardized policy, methodology, and language for designing, developing, conducting, and evaluating all exercises."

This site details the federal standards for planning and conducting exercises, so it's certainly a good starting point if you're planning or updating exercises for your agency.

"I would suggest any agency go to that Website and begin to model their exercises after what they suggest so that everybody has a unified emergency response," says Lt. Kevin K. King of the Long Beach (Calif.) Police Department. "They have everything from the evaluation forms to the layout. And they even have examples of exercises to follow."

It's so impressive that King says, "There's no need now to create your own exercises."

While this is essentially true, you'll still need to tailor exercises to the environment and resources in your jurisdiction. And there's a lot that goes into this process.

Setting Priorities

Practically anything could happen in your jurisdiction that would require emergency response. Your job is to come up with scenarios for likely targets and incidents so you can develop an operational plan for how to handle probable events.

"You basically look at exercises for what they call hard targets and soft targets in your community. And you identify both the hard and soft targets," says King. "And then you develop your exercise pertaining to what you feel is important."

In April 2006, King coordinated Long Beach PD's involvement in the Long Beach Airport's triennial emergency response exercise, which involved more than 20 agencies. Long Beach's priority, beyond preparing for an emergency response to a terrorist attack at the local airport, was to improve communications with other agencies. This involved testing a communications system from PacketHop that allowed all agencies participating in the exercise to communicate via a mobile mesh wireless network.

One of the tricky parts of being involved in any exercise is maintaining your own agency's priority while contributing to the overall training aspect of the event. This is especially true if your agency is the organizer.

Currently, one of the main priorities of many agencies conducting exercises is justifying funding for equipment.

"Other than audits, that's the only way the government-on all levels-can hold these emergency responders accountable for the money they're spending," says King, "to see what they've spent it on and to make sure it works." But money isn't the only impetus for conducting drills. There is of course the motivation of improving skills used to protect major targets in an agency's jurisdiction.

"The lieutenants and the commanders of the agency should be well aware of what issues they need to work on, and create exercises in regards to those," King says. "A certain manufacturer or industry in that city could create an issue for emergency responders."

Dep. Chief Frederick Capper of the Lakewood (Mass.) Police Department recognizes the need for specialized responses to potential targets in his city.

"Our jurisdiction is rather unique," Capper says of Lakewood. "We're equidistant from New York, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City. We also have a very large Orthodox Jewish community, hosting one of the largest rabbinical study centers in the United States. So we have a series of responses detailed out should we have any events at that college location or any of the major Jewish facilities we have here."

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