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Exercising: a brief history

The origins of exercises can be traced back to primeval times when practicing techniques for hunting and fighting were key to basic survival.

The importance of exercising has remained and it is visible in many forms, from air warfare simulations to classroom exercises for school students.

Modern exercises started from a military perspective where paper-based table-top exercises were used to figure out the best strategies. Maps, sandboxes and chessmen were used to simulate the old battles between two camps for instructional purposes (Borodzicz 2005).

These then developed into more organised dice based war games such as kriegsspiel used for the training of Prussian army officers and credited as a source of advantage in the Prussian victory over Napoleon in the Franco Prussian War 1870-71 (Leeson nd).

After the Second World War civil defense organisations began to also use exercises. An example of which was carried out by the United States Civil Defense administration in 1954. This was a huge exercise involving 54 cities, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Alaska and Hawaii (History 2018)

Watch the following video from the time which describes the event.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

These approaches to exercising have now developed into even more complex events that can be designed to exercise every aspect of an organisations skills, resources, plans and procedures.

Your task

What advantages do governments gain from carrying out the kind of exercises described in the video? Can you also think of disadvantages?


Borodzicz, E. (2005) Risk, Crisis & Security Management. Chichester: John Willey & Sons, Ltd.

Leeson, B. (nd) Kriegsspiel [online] available from https://kriegsspielorg.wordpress.com/home/the-origins-of-kriegsspiel

History (2018) First nationwide civil defense drill held [online] available from https://web.archive.org/web/20190112065113/https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-nationwide-civil-defense-drill-held

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This article is from the free online course:

Emergency and Disaster Training and Exercising: An Introduction

Coventry University