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Emergency Management Exercises: From Response To Recovery


Everything you need to know to design a great exercise for business continuity, emergency management or disaster recovery.


Exercises are a mainstay in the field of emergency management and business continuity planning.

Although many companies conduct exercises, and the organizers may be emergency response subject matter experts, they do not excel in the discipline of designing and conducting the actual exercise – which means they simply don’t get the best results out of their effort.

This thoughtful book starts with a “silly little question”: Why are we doing this? What seems like a simple query is actually one of the keys to get the most out of every exercise you design. This text peels back the design process with the goal of creating the best experience possible.

Whether you are developing a simple tabletop exercises or working on a full-scale extravaganza that resembles a Hollywood movie, this book will provide you with gems of wisdom that will make your next exercise sizzle. An internationally recognized expert in exercise design, author Regina Phelps shares many of her secrets to ensure your exercise success.

2011, 233 pages.

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About the Author

Regina Phelps, RN, BSN, MPA, CEM is an internationally recognized expert in the field of emergency management and continuity planning. Since Regina Phelps1982, she has provided consultation and speaking services to clients in four continents. She is founder of Emergency Management & Safety Solutions, a consulting company specializing in emergency management, continuity planning, and safety. A partial list of clients includes McAfee, IMF, Microsoft, American Express, Northern Trust, VISA, Triton Container, Intuit, Stanford University, Caltech Institute, JPL, Merck, MasterCard, and the World Bank.

Ms. Phelps recently attended the Crisis Leadership Executive Leadership training program at Harvard University and is currently working on a new book on Crisis Leadership. She works extensively with companies in the area Incident Management team design, process and implementation.

Ms. Phelps conducts over 100 exercises per year for her large multi-national clients. She has lectured extensively at international disaster and business continuity conferences including: DRJ, CP&M, WCDM, and IAEM. Last year she authored a textbook on exercise design entitled From Response to Recovery: Conducting Successful Exercises. She has also designed college-level courses in exercise design.

Ms. Phelps has received numerous honors and awards, including the Business Recovery Managers Association Award for Excellence in Business Recovery Planning, College of the Sequoias’ Hall of Fame, ARC’s Outstanding Employer, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s Women Entrepreneur of the Year, and the Small Business Administration’s Champion of Small Business. Ms. Phelps was the 1991 Chairman of the Board of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the first woman, the youngest, and first small business owner to ever hold that seat.


Your RoadMap – The Exercise Plan

By Regina Phelps

The Big Question

There is one question you want to ask yourself, your colleagues, your design team, and others over and over again during the design process. This question will help you stay on track and on vision from start to finish: Why are we doing this exercise? Don’t be turned off by the simplicity of that question, the answer holds the key to your exercise.

I started asking this simple question when I noticed how easy it was for people to get caught up in the excitement of the design. The team would be so fully engaged in the process that the next thing you know, we had Martians landing in the middle of the exercise (as a metaphor or course), and we were adding things that didn’t meet the mission. Or perhaps someone has a deliverable – or even a covert agenda – and they want to see if the exercise can deliver on it. If you’re not alert, they can insert something into the exercise that is, again, off-mission. Be alert, and keep asking Why are we doing this exercise? to avoid filling your exercise with things that don’t meet your objectives and can end up derailing the experience.

After one such exercise that seemed to deteriorate into a participant’s personal agenda, I came up with the idea of asking Why are we doing this exercise? As a regular part of the planning process. When it seems like the exercise is heading in the wrong direction, or the group’s enthusiasm is taking us into fun – but not necessarily helpful – territory, or I question someone’s agenda, I just ask the simple question, Why are we doing this exercise? The discussion that inevitably follows helps to realign the energy and makes sure we are delivering on the exercise objectives.

When embarking on the design process, this simple question can also help you:

  • Determine what type of exercise will likely deliver the best results.
  • Develop the exercise goal, scope, and objectives.
  • Assist you in determining which narrative will yield those results
  • Keep you and the design team on track.

Now that is a pretty handy question to ask!

Exercise Type

What type of exercise are you creating? I always ask myself three questions to help me decide which type is the best:

  • The first question is always Why are we doing this?
  • Second question: What is the maturity of the program and the plan?
  • Third question: What is the experience level of the team being exercised?

Once you have the answer to those questions, you should be able to determine which exercise type will yield the best results:

  • Orientation
  • Drill
  • Tabletop (Basic or Advanced)
  • Functional
  • Full-scale
  • Multi-site


Written by , Tuesday, 08 March 2011:

For the growing number of individuals charged with ensuring effective business continuity, disaster recovery, and emergency management plans, conducting an ineffective exercise constitutes a lost opportunity and a potential major setback to your planning efforts. Well-executed exercises are simply the best and only viable approach. Any type of planner will welcome this hands-on guide that is clearly the bridge to getting the most out of emergency management exercises.

Outlining the types of exercises used by organizations to test plans, the bulk of Emergency Management Exercises fleshes out how to run — end to end — the three most common types; Orientation, Tabletop and Functional. It’s loaded with examples of processes, charts, and templates that can be easily tailored to an organization, and even includes great ideas for making exercises more engaging (such as using local A-V talent to create a mock radio broadcast). The book provides the planner with a jump-start based on proven practices. This is a solid guide resting on a well-thought-out foundation.

Having been involved in the business continuity management field for twenty plus years, I know that one of the biggest challenges facing all types of institutions is to conduct exercises that make good use of the participants’ time and ensure plans are current and ready to be executed.

Sometimes the goal that drives the exercise and the objectives that support that goal have not been defined, which can lead to a lost focus or missed opportunity. Emergency Management Exercises not only addresses these common gaps, it provides the reasoning behind why they need to be closed. It also illustrates how to document results: It is not unusual for an under-planned exercise to adjourn without defined outcomes or actionable next steps. By following the suggestions in this handbook, you can capture results, present findings and track action items.

Finally, buy-in is crucial, as any experienced planner will tell you. Phelps’ book emphasizes a brilliant design-team approach that can help “evangelize” the value of exercises and spread awareness throughout the organization, including to managers.

Regina Phelps is an established industry expert in the area of emergency management planning and exercises, and has helped hundreds of companies implement crisis management plans. She does planners a big favor with this book by encapsulating her more than two decades’ experience conducting all types of exercises for organizations into 200+ pages of practical and practicable information. Phelps has actually managed to make designing and conducting these exercises achievable. Here is a concise, logical progression of planning, along with the techniques and tools that will bring desired results.

Emergency Management Exercises is an invaluable guidebook from a trusted and experienced veteran in the field.

Randall Till, MBCP

Randall Till, MBCP is principal and founder of Till Continuity Group. He is a business continuity professional with 20 plus years’ experience creating and implementing business continuity programs for business organizations.


We’re very pleased to bring you both a review of, and excerpt from, Emergency Management Exercises by Regina Phelps, RN BSN, MPA, CEM. If all the initials after her name don’t convince you that she knows her stuff, take it from me that this is the single most useful publication on this subject that I’ve seen in my almost 30 years of crisis management experience. When you’re a more “mature” practitioner (I prefer “mature” to “older than dirt”), it’s unusual to learn something new in your field – but in this book, Regina has taught me a lot that I intend to use for the benefit of my clients.

Jonathan Bernstein


Additional information

Weight 1 lbs