Below is a description of the planning conferences most useful for the design and development of a tabletop exercise. However, according to the scope and complexity of your exercise, you may not need to conduct all planning meetings listed below.
Concept and Objectives Meeting
A Concept and Objectives (C&O) Meeting is the formal beginning of the planning process. It is held to identify the type, scope, objectives, and purpose of the exercise. For less complex exercises and for entities with limited resources, the C&O Meeting can be conducted in conjunction with the IPC; however, when exercise scope dictates, the C&O Meeting is held first. Representatives from the sponsoring agency or organization, representatives from potentially participating organizations, the exercise planning team leader, and senior officials typically attend the C&O Meeting. The C&O Meeting helps planners identify the capabilities and tasks that are going to be validated, design objectives based on those capabilities and tasks, and exercise planning team members.
Depending on the scope of the exercise, the C&O Meeting can range from 2-4 hours. Possible topics or issues for a C&O Meeting include the following:
- Exercise purpose
- Proposed exercise scenario, capabilities, tasks, and objectives
- Available exercise resources
- Proposed exercise location, date, and duration
- Exercise planning team and exercise participants
- Exercise assumptions and artificialities
- Exercise control and evaluation
- Exercise security organization and structure
- Local issues, concerns, and sensitivities
- Exercise logistics
The following outcomes are expected from the C&O Meeting:
- Agreement regarding exercise type, scenario, capabilities, tasks, and objectives
- Consensus regarding the target exercise time frame and the date and time of the next planning conference
- Identification of participating entities
Initial Planning Meeting
The Initial Planning Meeting (IPM) marks the beginning of the exercise development phase. Unless a separate C&O Meeting is conducted, the IPM is typically the first official step in the planning process. Its purpose is to determine exercise scope by gathering: input from the exercise planning team; design requirements and conditions (e.g., assumptions and artificialities); objectives; extent of play; and scenario variables (e.g., time, location, hazard selection). The IPM is also used to develop exercise documentation by obtaining the planning team’s input on exercise location, schedule, duration, and other relevant details.
During the IPM, exercise planning team members are assigned responsibility for activities associated with designing and developing exercise documents and logistics. In addition to conducting the conference, the exercise planning team gathers appropriate photographs and audio recordings to enhance the realism and informational value of the final document(s) and/or multimedia presentation(s) presented during the exercise.
Depending on the scope of the exercise, the IPM can range from 3 to 6 hours.Possible topics or issues for an IPM include the following
- Understanding the rationale for exercise development
- Ensuring clearly defined and measurable capabilities, tasks, and objectives
- Determining a framework for the exercise scenario
- Identifying any issues, concerns, or sensitivities
- Determining the extent of play for each participating entity by establishing what each entity will demonstrate and be evaluated on at the exercise, allowing for appropriate logistical needs to be arranged in order to support those activities
- Ensuring that exercise planners consider themselves trusted agents and understand that, in most cases, they will participate as facilitators, controllers, or evaluators (rather than as players)
- Choosing subjects for photographs and/or audio/visual (A/V) recordings to incorporate into exercise documents and multimedia presentations (to enhance realism)
- Determining the optimum duration of the exercise
- Ensuring that exercise planners understand that the exercise is conducted in a no-fault environment intended to validate plans and procedures and identify problems and potential solutions
- Selecting or customizing the appropriate evaluation method to determine whether or not exercise objectives were achieved and to allow participants to provide feedback
- Reaching a consensus regarding the date, time, and location for the next conference
The primary tools for the IPM are the read-ahead packet; the agenda; capabilities and tasks from the Exercise Evaluation Guide (EEG); hazard information (if applicable); a proposed room layout; and the project management timeline. A briefing is useful for presenting an overview of the exercise to the planning team.
The following outcomes are expected from the IPM:
- A planning schedule
- Clearly defined, obtainable, and measurable capabilities, tasks, and objectives
- Identified exercise scenario variables (e.g., threat scenario, scope of hazard, venue, conditions)
- A list of exercise participants
- Identification and availability of SMEs and presenters, as necessary, for scenario vetting and/or expert evaluation
- Determination of the best communication method among exercise planning team members
- A list of which exercise documents and presentations must be employed, and assignments for drafting each
- Availability of all source documents (e.g., policies, plans, procedures) needed to draft exercise documents and presentations
- Clearly identified and assigned responsibility for exercise logistical issues (e.g., registration, badges, invitations)
- A list of established dates for completion of corrective actions and responsibilities
- A list of critical activities for the next planning conference
- An agreed upon date, time, and location for the next conference and the actual exercise
Midterm Planning Meeting
Midterm Planning Meeting (MPMs) are typically used in more complex, operations-based exercises such as functional exercises (FEs) and FSEs, but may be used for a tabletop exercise if needed. MPMs provide additional opportunities to settle logistical and organizational issues that may arise during planning.
The MPM is a working session to discuss exercise organization and staffing concepts, scenario and timeline development, scheduling, logistics, and administrative requirements. It is also a session to review draft documentation (e.g., scenario, Situation Manual). Possible topics or issues for an MPM include the following:
- Comments on draft exercise documentation
- Identification of exercise venue artificialities and/or limitations
- Agreement on final logistical items
- Assignment of additional responsibilities
- Construction of the scenario timeline
MPM tools include, but are not limited to, an agenda; IPM minutes; a draft scenario timeline; draft documentation; and other selected documentation needed to illustrate exercise concepts and provide planning guidance.
The following outcomes are expected from the MPM:
- Agreement on final Exercise Plan (ExPlan) details
- A fully reviewed exercise scenario timeline, usually the Master Scenario Events List (MSEL)
- Fully reviewed exercise documentation (e.g., ExPlan, Controller/Evaluator Handbook)
- Well-developed scenario injects (imperative if no additional conferences are
- Agreement on the exercise site
- Finalization of date, time, and location of the FPM
Final Planning Meeting
The Final Planning Meeting (FPM) is the final forum for reviewing exercise processes and procedures. Prior to the FPM, the exercise planning team receives final drafts of all exercise materials. No major changes to the design or scope of the exercise, or its supporting documentation, should take place at the FPM. The FPM ensures that all logistical requirements have been met, all outstanding issues have been identified and resolved, and all exercise products are ready for printing.
Generally, the FPM is approximately 3-4 hours. The following items are addressed during the FPM:
- Resolve any open issues related to exercise planning and identify last-minute concerns that may arise
- Review all exercise logistical activities (e.g., schedule, registration, attire, special needs)
- Conduct a comprehensive, final review of—and approve—all exercise documents and presentation materials
The primary tools for the FPM include IPM and/or MPM minutes, an agenda, and final draft exercise documents. If possible, these materials should be delivered to planning team members 5 days prior to the FPM.
The FPM should not generate any significant changes or surprises. The following outcomes are expected:
- Attendees have a clear understanding of—and give final approval for—exercise processes and procedures.
- Exercise documents and materials for production are approved.
- Last-minute issues are identified and resolved.
- Logistical elements, including A/V equipment, room configuration and setup, refreshments, and schedule, are confirmed.