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Assigned Reading

HSEEP      Guidebook

3-21       to 3-25 (Operations-based Exercise Development)

Exercise       Conduct 4-3 thru 4-7

Principles      of Emergency Management and Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) Textbook

Exercise       Scenario and MSEL, P 166-170

Exercise       Conduct, Play or Delivery, pg 171-173

“Steps      in writing an effective Master Scenario Events List” Journal of Emergency      Management, Vol 7, No 6 (2009), R Renger, PhD, MEP

Additional Reading

FEMA      Exercise Simulation System Document (ESSD) Review Document

https://training.fema.gov/programs/essd/curriculum/1.html (Links to an external site.)

Minnesota      Dept of Emergency Management, MSEL Job Aid


Discussion Board

Create a MSEL with at least 15 injects for a mass casualty scenario.

Write a      MSEL for a mass casualty scenario with at least 15 injects. Review and      comment on at least one other classmate’s MSEL

Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
Parking and Transportation
Clearly label established parking areas for participants arriving in personally owned vehicles at all
venues. If needed, law enforcement personnel may direct vehicles to proper parking areas and
transportation to pre-position controllers, players, and actors in advance of the exercise.
Actors add realism and prompt players to react to a scenario event. Exercise planning team
members can recruit from various organizations.8
Prior to the exercise, actors should receive the following:
A liability waiver form for signature;
Actor instructions, including information on when to arrive, where to report, and other
logistical details; and
Symptomology cards, when applicable.
Media, Public Affairs, and VIPs
Media, public affairs, and VIP personnel should always have an escort. Identify a designated
location for the media prior to the start of the exercise.
Operations-Based Exercise Control Planning
Exercise control maintains exercise scope, pace, and integrity during conduct under safe and secure
conditions. Elements of exercise control include staffing, control structure, control cell, simulation
cell, MSEL, controller training, communications, and safety and security.
The exercise planning team identifies the number of controllers needed during the exercise to
deliver and track information. As a guiding principle, place at least one controller at every venue
whenever possible to help ensure a safe exercise with proper security controls. Resource
constraints may make placing a controller at every site challenging; therefore, multitasking
personnel as both a controller and an evaluator is an option.
Control Structure
The control structure is the framework that allows controllers and simulators to communicate and
coordinate at multiple locations. The control structure ensures exercise play progresses to meet
exercise objectives and deliver and track exercise information. This structure becomes part of a
larger organizational structure during conduct. Figure 3.6 shows an example of a control structure
with multiple control cells.
Examples of organizations are local colleges and universities, medical and nursing schools, drama clubs, theaters, civic groups, emergency
response academies, Community Emergency Response Teams, and federal and state military units. Including volunteer actors from within the
access and functional needs population provides an opportunity to exercise in a variety of operational environments.
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
Figure 3.6: Example of an Operations-Based Exercise Control Structure
Table 3.13 describes the positions used in an operations-based exercise control structure.
Table 3.13: Positions of an Operations-Based Exercise Control Structure
Lead Controller
An individual that monitors exercise progression, communicates exercise
activities throughout all venues, and manages the control staff.
MSEL Manager
An individual that manages the timely and accurate delivery of injects and player
expected actions and decides on the need to release contingency injects.
Simulation Cell
An individual that delivers scenario messages representing actions, activities,
and conversations of an individual, agency, or organization that is not
participating in the exercise.
Ground Truth
An individual responsible for ensuring that the scenario details remain consistent
during exercise conduct.
Venue Controller
An individual that is responsible for setting up and operating a specific exercise
location. Venue Controllers manage exercise play and may prompt or initiate
certain players to ensure continuity and flow.
Area Controller
An individual responsible to ensure that observers and the media stay in their
designated areas and do not interfere with the exercise.
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
Exercise Assembly
Area Controller
An individual responsible for the logistical organization of the exercise assembly
area, including placement locations for units entering the exercise assembly area,
release of dispatched units into the field, and coordination of routes and overall
safety within the assembly area.
Master Control Cell (MCC)
An MCC is a location where overall coordination is managed between venue control cells (VCCs),
simulations cells, and other control areas. An MCC compiles all the information into a common
operating picture for the exercise and ideally will contain a Point of Contact (POC) or a liaison
representing each participating jurisdiction/organization. If an exercise contains multiple
geographic locations, consider establishing several VCCs to communicate and coordinate through.
When an exercise requires the establishment of multiple VCCs, defining the roles and relationships
and the decision-making hierarchy is important. In smaller exercises, there may be only the MCC
for which all information is shared. In exercises involving both classified and unclassified
information, separate control cells with appropriate security firewalls should be set up to keep
classified and unclassified information separate.
Simulation Cell (SimCell)
The SimCell is a location from which simulation controllers deliver scenario messages
representing actions, activities, and conversations of an individual, agency, or jurisdiction/
organization that is not participating in the exercise. Depending on the type of exercise, the
SimCell may require a telephone, computer, e-mail account, radio, or other means of
communication. Moreover, if an exercise uses a SimCell to drive exercise play, a determination is
made on how to staff and integrate the SimCell the broader control structure.
Master Scenario Events List (MSEL)
A MSEL is a document or system that is a chronological timeline of expected actions and scripted
events to be injected into exercise play by controllers to generate or prompt player activity. It
ensures necessary events happen so that all objectives are met. Larger, more complex exercises
may also use a procedural flow, which differs from the MSEL in that it contains only expected
player actions or events. The MSEL links simulation to action, enhances the exercise experience
for players, and reflects an incident or activity meant to prompt players to action.
Additional descriptive event types can be added to the MSEL to support exercise play when
needed. These events are the foundation of the exercise and are the individual building blocks of
the MSEL. There are three types of events that make up the MSEL and support exercise play.
Table 3.14 shows the event types that can be used in a MSEL.
Table 3.14: MSEL Event Types
Event Types
A MSEL event introduced to a player by the control staff, representing nonplaying entities, to build the exercise environment based on the exercise
scenario and to drive operations-based exercise play.
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
Event Types
Contingency Inject
A MSEL event introduced to a player by the control staff when a key player
expected action did not occur as planned, to provide an additional
opportunity to meet exercise objectives.
Expected Action
A MSEL event that represents an anticipated action to be taken by a player
during the exercise.
Each MSEL entry should include the following:
Event number;
Designated scenario time;
Event type;
Inject mode;
From (Non-playing entity delivered by the Control Staff);
To (Intended player);
Expected participant response;
Exercise objective; and
Notes section (for controllers and evaluators to track actual events against those listed in
the MSEL, with special instructions for individual controllers and evaluators).
Scenario timelines listed in the MSEL should be as realistic as possible and based on input from
SMEs. If the activity occurs sooner than the MSEL writers anticipated, then controllers and
evaluators should note the time the activity occurred, but play should not be interrupted.
Typically, there is one MSEL per exercise, and it may be in a short format, long format, or both.
A short format lists the events in a single row in a spreadsheet and is a quick reference guide during
exercise play. A long format includes more detailed descriptions of expected actions and contains
scripted language for actors and simulators. The MSEL may be projected onto a large screen in a
control cell or simulation cell and shared across multiple venues during the exercise.
Controller Training
Controller training includes a summary of the exercise design, including the exercise objectives, a
MSEL review, delivery methods, venues, timeline, communications plan, and evaluation criteria.
The C/E Handbook or Control Staff Instructions (COSIN) provides a communication plan for
controllers and instructions on whom they will communicate with, what they need to communicate,
and how they will communicate. Communication can occur though many forms such as phone,
radio, e-mail, face-to-face, network system, or a combination. Depending on the method used, the
essential equipment should be provided to the controllers and the control cells.
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
Safety and Security
Controllers also play an important role in ensuring that the exercise is a safe and secure
environment. In exercises involving potentially dangerous field play or the use of classified
materials, the control team designates a Safety and/or Security Controller as appropriate to focus
on those areas of control.
The planning team should consider the following to ensure a safe and secure environment:
Appointing a Safety and/or Security Controller;
Dedicating real-world medical (not involved in the exercise) and emergency procedures to
contact and deploy Emergency Medical Services;
Outlining safety requirements and policies, to include other safety issues outside the scope
of the exercise (for example, weather, heat stress, hypothermia, etc.);
Using local law enforcement to provide site security where appropriate; and
Identifying and adhering to appropriate security standards to ensure that sensitive or
classified information is not compromised.
Planning for Exercise Evaluation
Planning and organization prior to an exercise are imperative to effective and successful exercise
evaluation. The exercise planning team identifies evaluation elements early in the exercise design
process following the development of the exercise objectives. An evaluation team determines the
appropriate structure, organizes the team, and develops a comprehensive plan to address the
evaluation of the exercise. Evaluation is further explained in Chapter 5: Exercise Evaluation.
Preparing for Exercise Conduct
The exercise planning team finalizes all aspects of the exercise to prepare for conduct. Preparations
include finalizing materials, rehearsing presentations and briefings, and training participants for
the exercise. Prior to the exercise, the appropriate personnel receive documentation and additional
instructions needed for conduct.
To prevent jeopardizing mission performance in response to real-world incidents, the exercise
planning team should develop a contingency process to halt, postpone, or cancel an exercise as
necessary. If the conduct of the exercise is put at risk, the Exercise Director and exercise planning
team should convene and determine the appropriate course of action. Following a decision, the
course of action should be communicated to all exercise planners, participants, and other key
stakeholders through formal communications mechanisms.
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
An individual chosen, based on their expertise in the functional areas, to observe
and collect exercise data and analyze results.
Note Taker (as
An individual that records what is said during breakout groups, interviews, or
hotwash discussions, allowing the facilitator, presenter, or interviewer to focus
on soliciting information and asking follow-up questions, and supports data
collection and data management throughout the evaluation process.
Resource Lead
An individual responsible for obtaining proper venues, equipment, and supplies
for exercise conduct, as well as providing support for media and VIP observers.
Facilities Lead
An individual responsible for managing exercise venue considerations, such as
set up, tear down, and table and breakout room assignments, as required.
An individual responsible for managing the registration process, printed
documents, sign-in sheets, and badges.
Logistics Lead
An individual responsible to ensure proper room function and set up for
audio/visual requirements, as well as obtaining necessary equipment, food, and
drinks; works with the facilities lead.
Conduct activities for a discussion-based exercise include the following considerations:
Presentation is a crucial vehicle for conveying information to the players;
Facilitators/presenters help evaluators/note takers collect useful data by keeping
discussions focused on exercise objectives, capabilities, capability targets, and critical
Facilitators/Presenters make sure all issues are explored within the time allotted; and
Ensuring a safe and secure exercise environment.
All facilitators/presenters should take, and compile notes relevant to the groups’ discussions. If
multiple facilitators/presenters were used, the Lead Facilitator/Presenter will collect all notes from
each of the additional facilitators/presenters. This information will be used to generate the AfterAction Report/Improvement Plan (AAR/IP).
Operations-Based Exercises
Play Preparation
Depending on the scope of the exercise, the appropriate exercise planning team members should
begin event setup as many days before the exercise as necessary. A communication check is
important prior to the Start of Exercise (StartEx) to ensure all forms of communications are
working correctly.
Prior to exercise conduct, the exercise planning team delivers the necessary exercise materials and
equipment, which may include:
Arranging the briefing rooms;
Testing the audio/visual equipment;
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
Placing props and effects;
Marking the appropriate exercise areas and the perimeters; and
Checking for potential safety issues.
A rehearsal of the exercise structure is vital to ensure an understanding of controller and evaluator
responsibilities, transportation, event timing, audio/visual and communications equipment, and
location-specific details, including access and security. On the day of the exercise, all exercise
planning team members should arrive prior to Start of Exercise (StartEx) to complete any
remaining logistical or administrative items and set up registration.
Exercise Play/Conduct
During conduct of operations-based exercises, the Exercise Planning Team Leader often serves as
the Lead Controller. Controllers and evaluators report activities to the Lead Controller, who is
responsible for monitoring exercise progression, communicating exercise activities throughout all
venues, and managing the control staff. Figure 4.2 shows an example of an operations-based
exercise control organizational structure.
Figure 4.2: Example of an Operations-Based Exercise Control Structure
Table 4.2 4.2 describes the positions used in an operations-based exercise organization.
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
Table 4.2: Positions of an Operations-Based Exercise Control Structure
Exercise Director
An individual responsible for the strategic oversight and direction on the HSEEP
Cycle phases for an individual exercise.
An individual responsible to ensure that the exercise is conducted in a safe and
secure environment.
Lead Controller
An individual that monitors exercise progression, communicates exercise
activities throughout all venues, and manages the control staff.
MSEL Manager
An individual that manages the timely and accurate delivery of injects and player
expected actions and decides on the need to release contingency injects.
Simulation Cell
An individual that delivers scenario messages representing actions, activities,
and conversations of an individual, agency, or organization that is not
participating in the exercise.
Ground Truth
An individual responsible for ensuring that the scenario details remain consistent
during exercise conduct.
Venue Controller
An individual that is responsible for setting up and operating a specific exercise
location. Venue Controllers manage exercise play and may prompt or initiate
certain players to ensure continuity and flow.
Lead Evaluator
An individual that oversees all facets of the evaluation process, to include
recruiting, assigning, and training evaluators.
Venue Evaluator
An individual responsible for observing exercise activity/play in an assigned
exercise venue, area, or for a specific activity and collecting observations and
Resource Lead
An individual responsible for obtaining proper venues, equipment, and supplies
for exercise conduct, as well as providing support for media and VIP observers.
Facilities Lead
An individual responsible to work closely with the logistics section to manage
exercise venue considerations, such as set up, tear down, scheduling, and traffic.
An individual responsible for managing the registration process, printed
documents, sign-in sheets, and badges.
Logistics Lead
An individual responsible to ensure proper room function and set up for
audio/visual requirements, as well as obtaining necessary equipment, food, and
drinks; works with the facilities lead.
Exercise Assembly
Area Controller
An individual responsible for the logistical organization of the exercise assembly
area, including placement locations for units entering the exercise assembly area,
release of dispatched units into the field, and coordination of routes and overall
safety within the assembly area.
Area Controller
An individual responsible to ensure that observers and the media stay in their
designated areas and do not interfere with the exercise.
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
Conduct activities for an operations-based exercise include:
Ensuring a safe and secure exercise environment;
Distributing exercise documents that outline roles, responsibilities, and a communication
plan for the control staff;
Communicating between the SimCell, venue controllers, and MSEL manager to ensure
pace of the exercise play is appropriate;
Ensuring the Exercise Assembly Area Controller remains in close communication with
other controllers throughout the exercise; and
The Exercise Assembly Area Controller ensures that units are deployed based on the
timeline that is created by the planning team.
The Exercise Director and the planning team should have a contingency plan to pause, postpone,
or cancel in the event of a real-world emergency impeding the exercise.
Before an exercise, briefings educate participants about their roles and responsibilities. By
scheduling separate briefings for senior leaders, controllers and evaluators, actors, players, and
observers, exercise planning team members can avoid giving extraneous material to different
groups. Table 4.3 describes the exercise brief types.
Table 4.3: Types of Exercise Briefs
Senior Leader
A briefing occurs during the design and development and before the conduct of an
exercise. The exercise planning team leader periodically consults with the senior
leaders within the exercise planning team to ensure the exercise aligns with leader
and Evaluator
A briefing is generally conducted before operations-based exercises. It begins with an
exercise overview and then reviews the exercise location and area, schedule of events,
scenario, control concept, controller and evaluator responsibilities, instructions on
completing EEGs, and any miscellaneous information. Additional training for
evaluators may be conducted.
Actor Brief
A briefing before the start of the exercise, prior to the actors taking their positions. The
Actor Controller leads the actor briefing, a meeting generally conducted before the
exercise, providing actors with an exercise overview, safety, real emergency
procedures, acting instructions, schedule, identification badges, and symptomatology
Player Brief
A briefing before the start of the exercise, for all players to address individual roles
and responsibilities, exercise parameters, safety, security badges, and any remaining
logistical exercise concerns or questions. Participant handouts and ExPlans or
SitMans, depending on the type of exercise being conducted, are often distributed
during this briefing. Following the exercise, controllers ensure that appropriate players
attend the post-exercise hotwash in their respective functional areas.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety
Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) Job Aid
The MSEL (sounds like “measle”) is a complex part of exercise design and execution. This job aid highlights key information about
MSEL development, but does not cover every detail. Please contact HSEM Training and Exercise staff for further assistance.
What is a MSEL?
A MSEL is a chronological list of the scripted events in an exercise that generate activity in specific functional areas in support of the
exercise objectives. It is similar to a movie script — it lays out the order of fictional events (and some responses) to drive the exercise
and prompt actions or activities by the participants and players. The MSEL puts together all the parts of the exercise design process in
a chart-like document for use by the controller and simulators to keep the exercise on track.
The MSEL may be short or long or both, depending on the scope of the exercise.
● Short MSEL — lists the inject, delivery time, short description, responsible controller and receiving player
● Long MSEL — has a detailed description, exact quotes and formats for inject, and description of expected action
What are injects?
Injects are the events in the scenario that prompt the players to implement the plans that the exercise is designed to test. Injects may
contain the following elements:
● Designated scenario time
● Event synopsis
● Controller responsible for delivering the inject
● Expected action
● Intended player
● Objective to be demonstrated
● Notes section
MSEL inject types:
● Contextual injects are given by a controller to a player to build the operating environment; somewhat like a narrator setting
the scene in a movie.
Pub. 9/15/2014
Page 2: MSEL Job Aid
Example: To provide context in an exercise designed to test emergency operations plans for a flooding event, the controller
would deliver to players a National Weather Service report of storms and heavy rains in the area, complete with the history of
the storm, timelines and projections for severe flooding. A mock news report of flooded roads and stranded vehicles in an
area near a large nursing home follows.
Time Date
From: Dept./
Delivery Method
All players
Event Detail
Expected Actions
NWS report of heavy
rain and projections of
severe flooding; News
sources report flooded
roads and stranded
vehicles in an area
near a 200 bed nursing
County EM initiates
partial activation of
County EOC per County
Emergency Operations
County EOC
components for
partial activation
are operational
● Expected Action Events reserve a place in the MSEL timeline and notify controllers of when a response action would typically
take place.
Example: During a full-scale exercise (FSE) involving human exposures to an unknown chemical agent at a soccer field,
establishing an exclusionary zone (including traffic control and security by law enforcement officers) is an expected action.
# Time Date
From: Dept./
Delivery Method
# Time
Event Detail
Expected Actions
Police and Off duty police officer
Incident command is
Fire initial on site has relayed that established on arrival,
assignment at least 60 people at
protective gear donned by identified,
the soccer field are
fire, exclusionary zone
displaying symptoms of established by police.
protected from
chemical exposure
exposure, no
other victims
Pub. 9/15/2014
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● Contingency injects are events that should be verbally indicated by a controller to a player if they do not take place.
Example: During a terrorism response exercise, players do not discover a secondary device (IED). The controller may prompt
action by telling an actor to notify the players that suspicious activity was witnessed in the area. The actor’s message should
prompt players to discover the secondary device and execute the desired response.
# Time Date
From: Dept./
Delivery Method
# Time
Event Detail
“Uninjured Due to secondary
Bystander” device not being
discovered, actor will
state to responder,
“This is an exercise. I
saw a guy with a bag
over by that dumpster!
This is an exercise.”
Expected Actions
Responder will find
Area is secured,
secondary device and
personnel and
notify dispatch/ fellow
public accounted
responders, remove
for, IED team is
members of public, create activated and
exclusionary zone,
arrives within 5
exclude entry, and
request IED team.
Uninjured Bystander
detained as witness.
retained for
Summary of MSEL development:
● Review scenario and exercise objectives.
● Identify major and detailed events (in chronological order); also known as major and minor muscle movements.
● Develop a timeline of anticipated player actions for each major and detailed event. (Every participating agency/organization
will not necessarily have a role in every major and detailed event.)
● Identify the order or sequence of key actions that must occur, either scripted or actual.
● Use a spreadsheet or electronic development tool to manage information.
● Compile all MSEL events into a single list and assess with exercise planning team. (Ensure there are no injects going to nonparticipating agencies/organizations.)
● Refine selected MSEL events and complete a long version with additional information, if necessary. Typically, there is
sufficient room to consider the tasks, conditions, and standards set forth by each exercise objective.
Pub. 9/15/2014
166 
the expected participation level, additional scope elements can be determined. For example, where
would be a suitable location or will there be multiple locations? Will additional locations need to
be identified for logistical, SimCell, and staging operations or contained within the actual exercise
site? How long will the exercise run? Add to this duration the needed time to prep and time to complete after action reviews and post-event activities. At this point, the scope of the exercise will begin
to take shape. Determine if other factors (typically outside the span of control) will or are likely to
factor into the event. Concurrently, think about the “what ifs” concerning the levels, functions, and
number of exercise participants. What if an expected agency is not able to participate in the exercise? What if a real-world event occurs during the exercise, and one or more agencies stop play (to
respond to the emergency)? What if a new agency wants to participate? What if something happens
and the exercise site is no longer available or functional? Given the data now available and probable
solutions to the “what if ” questions, the exercise scope can now be determined.
The exercise scope describes the size, “shape,” and related aspects of the exercise and when it will
occur. Assuming all exercises’ broad purpose is to assess or evaluate, it is important to clarify the
program priorities, objectives, and capabilities to be assessed. As discussed earlier, program priorities
may be based on a host of indicators, including:
 Risk, threat, and hazard assessments
 AARs from real-world events or previous exercises
 Revisions to policies, procedures, or plans
 External program requirements such as grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts
 From jurisdictional planning efforts such as an integrated preparedness plan.
The program priorities driving the purpose of the exercise serve as the foundation for the development of exercise objectives, which provide the fundamental mechanisms to tie the exercise components to preparedness core capabilities objectively. Again, HSEEP doctrine guides as to how
objectives should be crafted and tied to capabilities (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2020).
The critical element of objectives is that each one must be measurable and specific, achievable,
relevant, and time-bound. The delineation of objectives and related capabilities facilitate the team’s
ability to develop the exercise evaluation parameters that will ultimately be used to fulfill the exercise’s overarching role: to assess or evaluate.
Exercise Scenario and MSEL
Regardless of the type, the exercise play is based largely upon a fictitious but realistic scenario that
describes the environment and context for the play and outlines a base chain of events or timeline.
The scenario constructed and used in the exercise play can span a wide range of events or situations
ranging from relatively small and finite events to the very large, complex—often with no clear ending. It can be based on naturally occurring events such as storms (all types and levels), accidental
chains of events leading to a mishap (again small to large), or to human-caused attacks. HSEEP doctrine suggests that the scenario should be “plausible, realistic, and challenging” (U.S. Department
of Homeland Security, 2020).
Regardless of the scenario being considered, there are several relevant recommendations to consider, all based on decades of experience.
 Make sure that the scenario selected is realistic for the jurisdiction it is intended. For example,
a scenario involving a snowstorm hitting the jurisdiction in play would not be appropriate
Exercises and AARs in Emergency Management 
for an area that rarely, if ever, experiences snow. An active violence attack inside a high-rise
building is better suited for a jurisdiction with high-rise buildings or an agency that could
likely respond to such an attack in that kind of environment.
 Make sure subject matter experts (expertise in the scenario event or attack) are used to develop
or at least review the scenario being designed to ensure that the scenario is technically accurate. Failure to adhere to this advice will usually result in an exercise considered to be “hokey”
or very unrealistic by participants, which will significantly diminish the value of the exercise as
a valid assessment tool and can severely cripple the credibility of the agency and exercise team.
 A well-constructed exercise timeline will include a prequel. A prequel is usually not part of the
exercise play but does provide an excellent contextual backdrop for the scenario. It may consist
of a simple notation that the weather conditions and general activity in and around the jurisdiction are “normal” for the scenario day to be played. Critical parts of the prequel would also
include such information as to whether any hidden hazards, threats, or vulnerabilities exist. If
the scenario involves some human-caused attack or string of actions, a plausible description of
how the bad actors arrived or prepared for the attack should be written. This helps to add credibility to the overall event plausibility and ensure that a realistic starting picture is presented. For
example, if the scenario is to be played based on a department’s reduced operating capability
(less capable than it usually possesses) then the reason for the capability drop must be provided
(e.g., fire department’s single elevated stream apparatus is unavailable this day due to a mechanical failure discovered yesterday causing the rig to be in the shop for a couple of days).
 Ensure that the terminology and lingo used in the scenario accurately reflect the agencies and
jurisdiction involved. For example, if the agency never refers to its ambulances as “buses,”
avoid using that term in the scenario except for actual passenger buses. Terminology and jargon may become a potential issue in situations where the exercise development and delivery
teams are not from the jurisdiction to be exercised.
 A technique used in almost all operational type exercises is “notionalizing.” This technique states
certain actions are happening (or not happening), that the weather, time of day, or date is something other than what is the case. An example would be telling the exercise participants to “pretend” that it is 10 p.m. instead of 10 a.m. or to pretend that it is raining when the fact is that
it is bright and sunny. If the scenario involves an act of violence that would have been seen had
the event been real, then the exercise players may be told that “assume you just saw subject being
struck by a round from a rifle, killing the subject.” The role player is then told to lie on the floor or
ground. This creates a notional event. Although the necessary ingredients are in the mix, the number of notional injects should be kept to the minimum needed to create the scenario being staged.
 Having exercise play progress in real time is always best, but the play must often be artificially
“sped up.” If specific actions and reactions during an operational exercise are key indicators
for assessment, then the play should move ahead in real time. Assume a scenario being used
that involves a hostage-taking situation to which an agency has responded with multiple law
enforcement levels, including patrol officers, a tactical team, and hostage negotiators. Assume
further that only the patrol officer positions are involved in the exercise. Experience tells us
that the hostage negotiation process may take hours in real life, but the actual time available
in the exercise for these players is only minutes. First, the involvement of negotiators in the
exercise play would be notional only, and second, the exercise would likely involve a time
jump. This would mean play would be artificially paused by the exercise controller, explaining
that negotiations have been ongoing for “x” amount of time and that time is back in play “y”
minutes or hours later. The exercise could have a notional inject telling the players what the
result of the negotiations was or role players could portray the likely actions at that point once
play is again starting “y” minutes or hours later.
168 
 During exercise play, there will almost always be individuals in and around the exercise play
area that are not players. One large group of non-players is the exercise delivery team, which
can be comprised of those that control or facilitate the exercise play, observing evaluators,
outside observers or guests, safety and security personnel, etc. It is necessary in all types of
exercises that non-players be distinguished/marked from players. The exercise delivery team is
labeled differently from the players and the observing guests. The most common method used
is to allow players to participate in the uniforms or clothing they typically wear, guests/outside
observers wear a specific color vest, and the delivery team wears a different color. Sometimes
the delivery team is further distinguished according to their set of duties or functions. This
method of identification must be planned and logistically prepared. Make sure the exercise
development team plans accordingly.
 In almost all cases, the exercise development products, including the scenario and MSEL, will
be held close to the vest and not released before the exercise. To that end, Non-Disclosure
Agreements (NDA) are executed with all members of the development team, among others.
The date, time, and often the location of the exercise will generally be released (almost a
requirement if participants are going to play), but the actual scenario will remain confidential.
This should be considered to be a “best practice.” But what about after the exercise?
 In some cases, NDAs are executed with all participants for a variety of reasons. Past exercise
scenarios and related tools are often shared among exercise designers and developers, as these
documents can be valuable resources for future exercises. There is a caveat, however. Exercise
developers have lifted scenarios, either in their entirety or large elements, from one cover
and placed them in new covers for different locations. Much can be learned by reviewing the
work products of others; these works can be inspirational. However, do not fall into the trap
of simply copying the scenario and injecting it into the current project. First, it is not ethical.
Second, better scenarios are crafted specifically for the jurisdiction or the organization to be
exercised. As stated earlier, operational parameters differ, sometimes significantly; scenarios
are not “one size fits all.”
 The same core scenario can be crafted in various ways to fit the program drivers, objectives,
and capabilities being evaluated. This is accomplished through MSEL variations with injects
developed to fit the player positions, perspectives, exercise type, etc. This approach is beneficial when a jurisdiction or organization needs to exercise different components at different
times. They all face the same scenario, but their look and feel are adjusted to fit the particular set of players participating. For example, consider a jurisdiction’s desire to exercise its
emergency responders, emergency management capability, and senior leaders in response to
and control a sizeable civil disturbance or civil unrest. The boots on the ground responders’
perspective and operational actions would differ from the senior leaders. It is highly unlikely
that a large city’s mayor would make his/her way to the disturbance’s front lines; this type
of action would almost certainly escalate the unrest. Therefore the senior leaders would participate in the exercise in the environment suitable for overarching leadership while the
responders would exercise in a more realistic and hands-on manner. The two factions would
be linked but controlled differently.
 Similarly, the emergency management team would most likely be exercised in the EOC.
This scenario could be exercised separately and at different times, or all three could be exercised concurrently with one group’s actions impacting the others. For most, the concurrent
approach would be the most appealing and realistic, yet it would certainly require a very
complex, cumbersome, and relatively expensive delivery operation to be successful.
Exercises and AARs in Emergency Management 
As described in the HSEEP doctrine materials, the Master Scenario Event List (MSEL) is
simply a chronological list of injects and delivery actions that are used to make the exercise work.
Consider a novel that is licensed for a cinematic production. One of the first steps necessary is for
the novel to be used as the basis for a screenplay and script. The story is converted into a format
of dialogue, actor movements, special effects, etc., that, when executed, can produce a movie. One
big difference between a film and exercise, however, is the film is usually shot and is always played
back as a single string of events while an exercise is more like a three-ring circus where there are
three performance rings in view under the big top, with one playing concurrently with the other.
The exercise is further complicated by having multiple rings playing together but with each linked
in some manner with the other. The action of one can directly impact another, or it can change the
contextual background of others. The MSEL is often constructed by several development teams
concurrently with each team assigned to a particular scenario aspect and player group. The injects
created by each team are assembled into a single MSEL, with each inject and action being timestamped to indicate when the action is to occur during the exercise. The injects scrubbed by an
editor ensure that the elements fit logically and are scheduled to happen in a logical time sequence.
An example of a set of injects follows.
Table 9.1
Sample MSEL
Exercise Time
Type of Inject
Inject Method
Phone Report to
Earthquake in
ABC County
Text is what the
caller says to
Phone Report
to Emergency
Power Outage
Text of email
reports specific
location of a
power outage
Phone Report
to Emergency
Earthquake in
DEF County
Local emergency
manager calls
state emergency
management to
report a possible
(county is
adjacent to abc
Cell towers out
Report to state
that cellular
service is out in
two counties
Source: Provided by Rick C. Mathews from Personal Documents
Note: The above illustration is fictional but was based on an actual MSEL used in a major functional
exercise informed by author’s notes.
170 
The format of the MSEL varies from one exercise to another. Still, certain key elements are
always present, such as time of inject (usually two times provided: real-world exercise anticipated
time and the scenario time), inject event, short description, method of inject, specific message or
action, intended receiver of inject, expected actions immediate to the receipt, and so on. Simply
stated, the MSEL is the script for the exercise.
As with the scenario, there are several recommendations for the MSEL, based on decades of
 Ensure that versioning controls are in place for the MSEL drafts. It is almost impossible
to design and craft an entire MSEL in a single sitting or day. It almost always the case that
multiple teams will be developing the MSEL concurrently, often in different rooms or
virtual chat rooms. At the outset, develop a master MSEL template, usually in a spreadsheet program. This template includes a prescribed font, font size, cell width, number of
columns, etc. Once crafted, the template is used by everyone without exception. At the end
of each team workday, the completed draft MSEL of each is sent to a master clearinghouse
that incorporates all sub-MSELs into one master document (hence the reason for using a
template), to which is assigned a new version number. This new draft version is then sent
back out for subsequent workdays with the teams using the new draft version as its starting
 All MSEL development teams must use the same base documents in venues, agencies, assets,
etc. If these are to change during the exercise, a set time in the exercise is selected for the
change. Each team adjusts to the base/asset changes at that time (such as if the available
resources for use change due to resources being expended or additional assets arriving).
 Make at least two backups of all evolving documents (MSEL, support materials, etc.) at the
end of each workday, period.
 On exercise day, even if every exercise control function is electronic, make sure that at least
one hard copy of the complete MSEL is physically available at each exercise site. Remember,
“Mr Murphy” is always invited to every exercise; sometimes, he shows up and insists on
As the exercise scenario and MSEL are developed, it is vital that every event and inject included are
directly related to one or more established exercise objectives. Likewise, make sure that every exercise
objective is addressed sufficiently in the scenario and MSEL. This step cannot be overemphasized.
Keep in mind that the exercise is being developed to meet one or more program priorities, related
objectives, and capabilities. The purpose of the exercise is to evaluate, and that process will endeavor
to address each objective. If no part of the exercise play touches a particular objective, then that
objective cannot be adequately evaluated. Mission failure can result. In a similar vein, adding events
and injects to the scenario and MSEL without expressed purpose can cause the exercise not to flow
correctly or could potentially confuse evaluators. This is not to say that injects may be added that
do not tie to specific objectives. They can and often are added. In most instances, they are added
to provide context or to fill a void. It may be needed to provide operational distractions as would
normally occur in real-world operations in some situations. In every case, however, it is important to
add a comment to the MSEL that identifies the addition’s purpose or need. Please keep the number
added to a minimum and make sure they are not added to cause players to fail (see comment failure
later in this chapter).
Exercises and AARs in Emergency Management 
Exercise Documentation
Arguably, one of the strongest characteristics of the HSEEP doctrine and related materials (U.S.
Department of Homeland Security, 2020) is the wealth of supporting documentation it describes and
templates it provides. Which documents will be needed for a specific exercise varies based on the type
of exercise, size of the event, number of people involved. Rather than repeat what is contained in the
HSEEP doctrine, simply suffice it to say that these materials should be consulted, considered, and
used to the extent they can. Indeed, the exercise design team can revise the templates for their specific
use and add additional ones to the mix as necessary. Just make sure all of the bases outlined in HSEEP
are covered. One other benefit of employing these documents is that the exercise development team
and almost certainly the delivery team will include individuals experienced in exercise design and
delivery. Accordingly, they will almost certainly be familiar with the documents suggested in HSEEP.
Exercise Conduct, Play, or Delivery
Suppose one explores the HSEEP doctrine and supporting materials. In that case, one might quickly
observe that the number of people needed to run an exercise is more extensive than most would
think necessary. Many might conclude that the exercise “wiring diagram” is approaching being
bureaucratic. Frankly, it would be hard to argue against that conclusion. But experience has taught
most of us involved in exercise design, development, and delivery that there is a good reason for each
inclusion. HSEEP depicted examples include the two following diagrams. Image 9.1 illustrates the
suggested control structure for a discussion-based exercise.
It may help think about each of the positions (not only in these two examples but in all HSEEP
organizational examples) as functional needs and not as individuals. In some cases, depending upon
Main Exercise Venue
Exercise Director
Safety Controller
Lead Facilitator/Presenter
Lead Evaluator
Resource Lead
Facilitator/Presenter 1 *
Evaluator/Note Taker 1*
Facilitator/Presenter 2 *
Evaluator/Note Taker 2*
Facilitator/Presenter 3 *
Evaluator/Note Taker 3*
Logistics Lead
As Needed *
As Needed *
As Needed
Facilities Lead
Administration Lead
* Additional facilitators and evaluators can be used for functional/organizational breakout groups
Dotted lines represent areas where individual may fill two roles
Main Exercise Venue
Image 9.1
Illustrates the Suggested Control Structure for an Operations-Based Exercise
Source: Image Provided by U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2020
172 
Master Control Cell
Exercise Director
Lead Evaluator
Lead Controller*
Simulation Cell
Ground Truth
Resource Lead
Area Controller
Assembly Area
As Needed
* Exercise Planning Team Lead typically becomes the Lead Controller
Simulation Cell
Master Control Cell
Image 9.2
Operations-Based Exercise Control
Source: Image provided by U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2020
the scope, size, and related characteristics of a specific exercise, one individual may cover more than
one functional area. The case may often be reversed, which may mean that more than one person
may be needed for a particular function, based on the span of control, concurrent operations, etc.
Evaluate each function carefully and staff accordingly. Failure to do so will almost certainly send an
automatic invitation to Mr Murphy to visit your exercise.
Concerning exercise delivery or conduct, several recommendations are provided for consideration:
 For operational exercises, always include safety and security as key issues requiring attention.
The more movement, action, and emotions that exercise requires or generates, the more likely
unsafe acts can occur. There must always be someone tasked solely with safety at every venue
or major operational area. There are no excuses or exceptions to this.
 Regardless of the exercise type, always factor in the basic human needs for everyone involved,
including the players, observers, controllers, facilitators, scribes, and others. Restroom facilities and refreshments (water alone may not be enough) depending upon the time span of the
exercise) need to be addressed and provided.
 Some exercises are closed to the public and press and media; others are fully public or may allow the
press and media to observe. If outsiders are going to be permitted at the exercise venues, make sure
to designate where they can go and what areas are restricted. Security personnel may be necessary
to help manage this. The press and media represent the public and generally want to observe play,
document what they see, and perhaps interview individuals. The jurisdiction’s leadership almost
always makes decisions as to what can and cannot be permitted. One or more Public Information
Officers should be assigned to the press and media. The PIOs will often want to enable the press
and media to photograph and video portions of the exercise. The PIOs must coordinate with the
exercise delivery manager to minimize the distractions and possible interference they might make
in the exercise play. Work this out ahead of time and plan accordingly. It is also helpful to note that
“Mr Murphy” routinely tags along with the press and media, “just saying.”
Exercises and AARs in Emergency Management 
 An exercise may be scripted and planned; almost every delivery will somehow include something unplanned or considered. Things like this happen. The exercise delivery manager must
be prepared for these things and needs to be in any of the team’s “loops” considering or experiencing these aberrations.
 It is always helpful to document observations that relate to how the exercise is being operated,
coordinated, etc., while play ensues. Observers and scribes are primarily tasked with watching
and recording how participants play and their actions. These are vital to the evaluation of the
participants in keeping with the intent of the exercise. But also, importantly, the exercise team
needs to observe and document its operations. However, note that these secondary observations should be recorded separately from the primary notes as they are not typically part of the
players’ assessment. However, they are most useful when conducting the host exercise team’s
“hotwash” and for lessons learned.
Final Comments on Exercises
Developing and delivering exercises for organizations and jurisdictions is an important tool used in
evaluating the jurisdiction’s readiness. Exercises are also very time-consuming and relatively expensive. Exercises require significant commitments of time from everyone involved in the planning,
development, and delivery processes. Often, organizations and most jurisdictions simply do not
have the resources to pull from other vital operations to develop and deliver an exercise. In most
cases, jurisdictions and many organizations will seek outside consulting companies to assist. The
federal government (DHS, DHHS, DoE, DoD, and others) have supported this need through
grants and contractual programs. Engaging a contractor to assist will likely be most beneficial to
the organization or jurisction. The vast majority of consultants and contractors can be expected to
provide great value and excellent service. Most organizations and juridictions that have engaged
contractors for this service would likely say that contractors:
 Do a great job
 Are very helpful
 Provide objective services and analysis
 Have access to necessary subject matter experts
 Are absolutely “fluent” in HSEEP.
All of these points are true, but be mindful that a contractor does not absolve the organization
or jurisdiction from its need for due diligence or responsibility to make sure the exercise meets its
Another area for short discussion deals with “failure.” If one is going to evaluate objectively,
one must understand that not everyone or every organization is outstanding or even satisfactory
on every test or situation. So how does this apply to the “exercise.” In training, there are two, and
usually strongly felt, views about allowing students to fail. Most educators and trainers strive to facilitate learning by all, learning that the student has passed all of the tests and criteria established for
satisfactory completion of the course. Many will argue that in skill lanes where students are learning
psychomotor skills, students should be stopped at any point where they appear to deviate from the
correct procedure or methodology. The argument is that allowing the student to complete a skill
station rotation incorrectly will result in incorrect muscle memory.

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