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Different approaches to exercising

In this article Dr Yung-Fang Chen discusses the different methods of exercising.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
In this section we will now analyse common methods of exercising and assess for what situations they are best suited.
There are many different types of exercise that can be developed. They each test slightly different areas of an organisations response and so care should be taken that the correct exercise is developed depending on the desired qualities that require testing.
The following is not an exhaustive list of the potential types available but does give you a general view of how different approaches differ in their scope.


The use of seminars for exercising is as a discussion activity based on a scenario where the responses will be agreed amongst participants.
As a tool it can help to embed new plans and procedures with staff. Owing to the increased time allowed for debate the stress levels for participants is considered as low.


This form of exercise has similarities to seminars. They involve group decision-making but problems are developed with plot elements injected into the exercise with the use of messages sent to the teams by exercise organisers.
They are used to test plans and to familiarise staff in the implementation of them in less certain situations. It is also a useful technique to develop an understanding of resource allocation and role assignment without the need and expense of live options.
The tasks can be completed in a few hours and should involve key staff and supervisors working together in a room.
This form of exercise would also be considered as low stress because of its abstraction from real-life situations.


A drill describes an exercise that makes use of equipment required in real situations. Its role is to give staff hands-on experience of using the equipment in different scenarios.
This is again a fairly short form of exercise taking only a few hours and is discipline specific. Those involved should be front-line field responders and the exercise can take place in a field practice area where equipment is available. Owing to the more realistic nature of the exercise, the stress levels can be described as moderate.


A functional exercise is a broader exercise designed to involve all staff involved in the management and implementation of a specific function. Its aim is to test the full range of procedures and facilities that apply to the function under realistic conditions.
As a larger, more realistic exercise it should take place at a facility and make use of realistic props such as correct forms, IT equipment, communications devices etc.


The control-post exercise bears some similarity to a functional exercise, though it is not necessarily designed to test a specific function and so can test broader, interrelated capabilities.
Whereas tabletop exercises are carried out away from organisational resources, the control post exercise is deliberately placed within the organisational facilities and can be used to test not only decision making and strategic planning but communication systems and more operational plans and procedures.

Live exercises

Live exercises represent the complete simulation of an emergency. As such they require the use of the full set of resources to solve actual problems that occur as events proceed during an incident.
Their purpose is to test an entire system including the response, plans, procedures and resources that are available. The exercise can take anything from hours to a number of days and importantly should involve all levels of responder and command.
As the closest approximation to real events and with the inclusion of unexpected events the live exercise should be viewed as moderately-to-highly stressful for the participants.

Your task

Have you had experience of any of these forms of exercise, possibly as a volunteer or non-specialist participant in a fire alarm exercise?
Were the objectives clear and were they successfully accomplished with the exercise used? Would a different form have achieved the objectives better?
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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Emergency and Disaster Training and Exercising: An Introduction

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