Conduct Exercise


The multimedia presentation is a crucial vehicle for conveying information to the audience. Individuals selected to present should be confident, able to speak well in front of large audiences, and exhibit their expertise of the subject. They should not be prone to reading directly from the presentation slides.

The presentation typically starts with brief remarks by representatives from the exercise planning team or sponsoring entity, and/or senior officials from the governing jurisdiction. After the opening remarks, the presentation moves into a brief introductory and explanatory phase led by the lead facilitator. During this phase, attendees will be introduced to facilitators and evaluators, given background on the exercise process, and be advised about their individual roles and responsibilities.

The lead facilitator generally presents the multimedia briefing, which describes the scenario that will unfold and any relevant background information. The lead facilitator also leads the discussion, brings spokespersons up to the front of the room, poses questions to the exercise players, and ensures that the schedule remains on track.


Facilitated Table Discussions

Discussion-based exercises tend to focus on higher-level capability issues involving an entity’s plans, policies, and procedures. As such, many discussion-based exercises use breakout sessions and other exercise techniques different from those used in operations-based exercises. In the breakout session approach, a lead facilitator frames the scenario and poses discussion questions; players then break into subgroups, based on discipline or jurisdiction, to discuss the questions with a table facilitator. In such exercises, there must be evaluators and/or note-takers present in each breakout group. It may be desirable to assign both an evaluator and a note-taker to each breakout group so that the evaluator can focus on addressing issues related to exercise objectives and the note-taker can focus on capturing general discussion issues.

Facilitated table discussions occur at individual tables organized by discipline or agency/organization, and ideally, someone with functional area expertise facilitates them. Each table facilitator is responsible for keeping the discussion on track with the exercise objectives and making sure all issues are explored (time permitting). Characteristics of a good table facilitator include the following:

  • Ability to keep side conversations to a minimum, keep discussions on track and within established time limits, control group dynamics and strong personalities, and speak competently and confidently about the subject without dominating the conversation
  • Functional area expertise or experience
  • Awareness of local plans and procedures
  • Ability to capture the discussion in notes for inclusion in the After Action Report / Improvement Plan (AAR/IP)

Facilitated table discussions take place following each module or scenario update and before the moderated group discussions. Players should discuss their responses based on their knowledge of current plans, procedures, and capabilities.

If feasible and/or appropriate, co-facilitators who are knowledgeable about local issues, plans, and procedures may assist the lead facilitator. Also, designating a recorder to take notes allows the facilitator to focus on key discussion issues.

All facilitators should take and compile notes relevant to their group's facilitated and moderated discussions. This information will be used to generate the AAR/IP and/or exercise notes.

Moderated Group Discussions

In moderated group discussions, a representative from each table presents all participants with summarized results from each group’s facilitated table discussion. This spokesperson is selected before the facilitated table discussion so that he or she can prepare to speak on behalf of the group. During moderated group discussions, spokespersons summarize the facilitated table discussion, present key findings and issues, and discuss any unresolved issues or questions. At the end of the moderated group discussion period, the floor becomes open for questions.

Generally, time for both facilitated table discussion and moderated group discussion periods is scheduled at the end of each module, with another, longer period for each at the conclusion of the exercise. During the module discussion periods, groups should be careful to focus only on the material presented in a given module.

Exercise Evaluation Guides 

Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs) help evaluators collect and interpret relevant exercise observations. EEGs provide evaluators with information on what tasks they should expect to see accomplished or discussed during an exercise, space to record observations, and questions to address after the exercise as a first step in the analysis process and development of the AAR/IP.

For more information about how to develop EEGs, refer to the following FEMA HSEEP website:


Immediately following exercise play, it is advisable to conduct a hotwash with exercise players.  A hotwash is essentially a visual represenation of strengths and weaknesses. Write a column of “What Went Well” and a column of “Areas of Improvement” on a white board or butcher paper. Review the objectives and then ask “What Went Well” first.

Participant Feedback Form

Players and observers receive a Participant Feedback Form before the end of the exercise that asks for input regarding the exercise’s strengths and areas for improvement. At a minimum, the questions on this feedback form solicit the following:
  • Impressions about exercise conduct and logistics
  • Substantive information on the most pertinent issues discussed and potential corrective actions to address these issues

Information collected from feedback forms contributes to the issues, observations, recommendations, and corrective actions in the AAR/IP. Exercise planners should pay particular attention to comments regarding logistical problems so future exercises can avoid them. Feedback forms can be supplemented by the conduct of a hotwash immediately following the exercise, during which time facilitators conduct an informal conversation with players to capture their perspectives on the key strengths and areas for improvement identified during the exercise.

Exercise Debrief

A debrief with the exercise planning team, facilitators, and evaluators should be held immediately following the exercise. The purpose of this debrief is to collect observations and thoughts about exercise conduct. The debrief also provides evaluators the opportunity to clarify points or collect any missing information. Following an exercise, evaluators may also supplement the data collected on their observation forms by collecting additional data from participants through discussions, Participant Feedback Forms, and facilitator notes. The lead evaluator should assign one or more members of the evaluation team to take detailed notes during the debrief. The debrief discussion is reflected in the preliminary analysis.