Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodology

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Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodologyi

Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise MethodologyTable of ContentsIntroduction . 1Executive Summary. 1Interoperable Communications. 1What is a Tabletop Exercise?. 2What Is a Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise?. 3How to Use the Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodology . 3Security Guidance . 4Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Goals. 4Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Phases . 5Phase 1: Exercise Planning . 7TTX Critical Success Factors . 7Factor: Defined Purpose and Goals . 7Factor: Local Practitioner Involvement . 8Factor: EPT. 8Factor: Scenario Development . 11Factor: SITMAN . 12Factor: Logistics. 13Factor: TTX Roles and Responsibilities . 16Factor: Commitment to Action . 18Phase 2: Exercise Design and Documentation Development . 19Pre-Meeting Planning Activities. 19Preparing the Exercise Timeline. 20Planning Conference #1: Concept and Objectives Meeting Outline . 21Planning Conference #2: Initial Planning Conference Meeting Outline . 23Planning Conference #3: Mid-Term Planning Conference Outline . 25Scenario Development Checklist. 26Planning Conference #4: Final Planning Conference Outline. 27Phase 3: Conduct Exercise . 28Introduce the Exercise and Energize Participants. 28Exercise Play . 29Exercise Debrief . 32Technical Demonstration (Optional) . 32Phase 4: Exercise Evaluation and Data Analysis . 33QuickLook Debrief and Report . 34Organizing Outcomes along the Interoperability Continuum. 34Interoperable Communications Gap Analysis . 35After Action Report . 36Continuous Improvement. 39Improvement Plan Key Steps: . 39What’s Next? Other Types of Exercises to Consider . 41Functional Exercises . 41Executive Tabletop Exercises . 41Full-Scale Exercises . 42Conclusion . 43Acronym List . 44i

Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodologyii

Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise MethodologyAppendicesAppendix A Planning Tools. A-1A.1 Sample Exercise Planning Team Organization . A-2A.2 Facilities Checklist. A-2A.3 Sample Invitation Letter . A-4A.4 Sample Registration Sheet . A-6A.5 Sample Exercise Agenda. A-7A.6 Example, Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Scenario . A-8A.7 Options for the Room Layout . A-11Appendix B Situation Manual Template . B-1Appendix C Evaluation Tools . C-1C.1 Exercise Evaluation Form . C-2C.2 Interoperable Communications Evaluation Criteria . C-4Appendix D Report Templates . D-1D.1 QuickLook Report Template . D-2D.2 Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program After Action Report/Improvement PlanTemplate. D-4Appendix E Appendices Acronym List .E-1List of FiguresFigure 1. Interoperability Continuum . 2Figure 2. Tabletop Exercise Methodology Development Process . 6Figure 3. Tabletop Exercise Timeline. 20Figure 4. Sample Exercise Planning Team Organization. A-2Figure 5. Option 1 for Room Layout. A-11Figure 6. Option 2 for Room Layout. A-12List of TablesTable 1. Elements of the SITMAN . 13Table 2. Tabletop Roles and Responsibilities. 16Table 3. Tabletop Exercise Sequence of Events . 30Table 4. Examples of Interoperable Communications Gaps . 36Table 5. Participant Assessment. C-3Table 6. Measures . C-4Table 7. Improvement Plan Matrix. D-19Table 8. Participant Assessment. D-22Table 9. Exercise Events Summary. D-23Table 10. Performance Ratings . D-24Table 11. Acronyms . D-25Note: Additional forms, samples, and templates are available in the Homeland SecurityExercise and Evaluation Program Library, Volume IV at

Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodologyiv

Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise MethodologyIntroductionExecutive SummaryThe Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Communications-Specific TabletopExercise Methodology is intended to help local policymakers and Federal technicalassistance programs plan, design, and conduct communications-specific exercises incollaboration with the emergency response community. Tabletop Exercises (TTXs) arean important component of interoperability training and exercises. Replicablenationwide, the Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodology may betailored to the specific needs, realities, and organizational cultures of diverse localities.In keeping with its practitioner-driven approach, DHS developed the CommunicationsSpecific Tabletop Exercise Methodology in partnership with local, tribal, state, andFederal emergency responders who participate in TTX planning, design, execution, andevaluation processes. By incorporating the objective input of practitioners, themethodology develops realistic exercise scenarios, tests actual response processesand procedures, generates usable exercise results, and enables the identification andimplementation of effective interoperable communications solutions.Interoperable CommunicationsCommunications interoperability refers to the ability of emergency response agencies—police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, andemergency managers—to exchange data and voice communications across disciplinesand jurisdictions on demand, in real time, and as authorized. During coordinatedresponse operations, these traditional practitioners also need to communicate withpartner disciplines and organizations (e.g., the Federal Emergency ManagementAgency, the National Guard, the Coast Guard, public utilities, transportation agencies,and private security forces).Many people assume that emergency response agencies across the Nation are alreadyinteroperable. In actuality, emergency responders often cannot talk to some parts oftheir own agencies—let alone communicate with agencies in neighboring cities,counties, or states. Too often, inadequate and unreliable communications compromiseemergency responders’ ability to respond effectively to incidents ranging from day-today operations to large-scale emergencies.Interoperability is not solely a technology problem that can be solved with the “right”equipment or the “right” communications system. Interoperability is a multi-dimensionalissue, as graphically depicted by the DHS Interoperability Continuum (figure 1). Thisframework visually depicts the core facets of interoperability that must be addressed toensure successful and sustained interoperability improvements. The InteroperabilityContinuum facilitates discussions between emergency responders and policymakers asthey collaborate to frame key initiatives for their short- and long-term interoperabilityefforts. Additionally, the Interoperability Continuum helps emergency responsepractitioners and policymakers evaluate the maturity of their agencies’ and regions’interoperable communications capabilities.1

Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise MethodologyFigure 1. Interoperability ContinuumDHS is working to provide the emergency response community with tools—templates,guidance documents, and methodologies—to improve each of the areas identified in theInteroperability Continuum. To advance training and exercises progress, DHS workedwith Federal partners and the emergency response community to develop amethodology for communications-focused, multi-agency TTXs. Localities, states, andFederal technical assistance programs may use this Communications-Specific TabletopExercise Methodology as a guide for conducting TTXs that will lead to the identificationof communications gaps and improvements to address those gaps.What is a Tabletop Exercise?A TTX is a discussion-based exercise that focuses on existing plans, policies, mutualaid agreements, and procedures used among multiple agencies. Typically, a TTXinvolves representatives from the entire range of agencies and jurisdictions that wouldtake action in all-hazards or terrorist response incidents. To conduct a TTX, some typeof high-impact or large-scale disaster scenario is presented to the exercise players inphases. As the scenario unfolds, the players describe the actions that they would taketo respond. Players’ descriptions of the processes and procedures employed are notedin real time for the debrief section of the exercise. Facilitators lead the scenariodiscussion, help to keep participants on track, and ensure that exercise objectives aremet. In the weeks following the exercise, an After Action Report (AAR) is developed anda debrief discussion is conducted; during the completion of these tasks, players,2

Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodologyobservers, and facilitators have an opportunity to share their thoughts, observations,and recommendations from the exercise in a “no fault, no blame” forum.The effectiveness of a TTX is derived from the energetic involvement of all participantsand their assessment of recommended revisions to current policies, procedures, andplans. All types of TTXs are usually constructed with the following common features: They incorporate group problem solving.Senior officials become familiar with critical issues related to their responsibilities.They employ the conditions of a specific scenario.Personnel contingencies are examined.Group message interpretation is examined.Participants share information.Interagency/inter-organization coordination is assessed.Limited or specific objectives are achieved.They prepare participants for more complex exercises.What Is a Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise?A communications-specific TTX is a forum to evaluate current communications plans,communications concepts, resources, and interoperable capabilities. The emphasis of acommunications-specific TTX is on interoperable communications capabilities or gaps;interoperable communications assets in place, or their absence; and the use ofprocesses that support interoperable communications, such as those in the NationalIncident Management System’s (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS). Following thecompletion of a TTX, the after action debrief and AAR feed into process ImprovementPlans (IPs) containing specific initiatives to improve communications interoperability inthe participating community. The end result of the TTX includes: a better understandingof local communications interoperability capabilities, a gap analysis and AAR of thecommunications capabilities that require improvement, and an IP to mitigate thosegaps.How to Use the Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise MethodologyDHS developed the Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodology toprovide a detailed, step-by-step approach for effectively planning, conducting, andevaluating an interoperable communications-specific TTX. The exercises developedand executed as a result of this methodology will help localities identify interoperabilitycapabilities and gaps in existing processes.The Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodology should be used with thegeneral principles for planning and conducting effective exercises put forth by DHS. Itshould also adhere to the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program’s(HSEEP) guidelines. HSEEP serves as the Federal Government’s overarching programfor formulation, execution, and evaluation of emergency response exercises. This guideincorporates HSEEP recommendations to provide a detailed methodology focused onTTXs for improving interoperability communications. This guide does not address theHSEEP-recommended exercises that are focused on topics other than communicationsinteroperability. Additional HSEEP guidance, planning support tools, and documentation3

Communications-Specific Tabletop Exercise Methodologytemplates are available at the HSEEP Web site ( ExercisePlanning Teams (EPTs) may use the electronic versions of these forms and templatesto prepare for a communications-specific TTX.Security GuidanceWhile the content found in the Communications-Specific Tabletop ExerciseMethodology is not sensitive or classified, some of the materials generated using themethodology (e.g., scenario examples) may necessitate restrictions on distribution.Exercise materials that are produced in accordance with this guidance and are deemedsensitive should be designated as For Official Use Only (FOUO). FOUO identifiesunclassified information of a sensitive nature, not otherwise categorized by statute orregulation, the unauthorized disclosure of which could advers

A communications-specific TTX is a forum to evaluate current communications plans, communications concepts, resources, and interoperable capabilities. The emphasis of a communications-specific TTX is on interoperable communications capabilities or gaps; interoperable communications assets in place, or their absence; and the use of

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