Formidable Footprint Exercise Series an Opportunity to Assess Neighborhood Preparedness

Groups in 38 states have registered to participate in a series of six tabletop exercises involving a variety of hazards designed to test community plans.

by Corey McKenna / January 26, 2011
Leon County Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee Fla. Photo courtesy of the Disaster Resistant Communities Group. Disaster Resistant Communities Group

A series of virtual tabletop exercises between January and June will test the capacity of neighborhood groups to prepare for, respond to and recover from a natural disaster. A Jan. 29 earthquake exercise will address the response to an earthquake. Disasters to be taken up in succeeding months are flooding, wildfires, tornadoes, a flu pandemic and a hurricane scenario.

The Web-based Formidable Footprint exercises ask participants to answer a series of questions about their capacity to respond to a variety of situations they may be faced with following a disaster. For example, as a hurricane approaches a 93-year-old widow requests help putting up storm shutters. The team playing through the exercise would be asked to determine if that is a something it can take care of or should it refer her to someone more suitable. In either case, it prompts the team to work through its processes. Meanwhile, the exercise clock ticks away, adding a sense of urgency to the self-paced exercise.

The exercises also prompt the teams to consider what information they should report to their local emergency management officials, how to do that and what to do in other instances, such as if a member is injured.

At the end of the exercise, each of the teams completes a Web-based review and receives a copy of its responses to the prompts. “That is what they have really liked,” said exercise author and partner coordinator Chris Floyd. “What they’re actually doing is developing or enhancing their capability by enhancing their plan, their procedures.”

The questions lead teams to develop incident action plans (IAP) even though the exercise is written in plain language. “We didn’t call it an IAP, but what they’re doing is developing or assessing their capabilities, assessing their plans as they work through it,” Floyd said. 

There’s no cost to community groups to participate in the Formidable Footprint exercises, but registration is required so participants may receive exercise materials beforehand. Each exercise will be followed with an after-action report, and groups will be provided with a copy of their responses to help their disaster planning.

Floyd said emergency management officials play an important role in promoting the exercise in their communities, getting participants signed up and hosting teams. 

The tabletop exercises are facilitated using the ON-line eXercise (ONX) System, which will allow each participating neighborhood to take part in the exercise from a computer in a neighbor’s home, church, community center or other facility.

Jeff Williams, deputy emergency management director for Groton, Conn., led a group of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members through a hurricane exercise in October 2010. “It allowed you and your team to actually go at your pace, to ask the questions and really engage your team without the distraction of other teams doing what they do,” Williams said. “As for us, here in New England, we’re prone to hurricanes so it was the perfect platform again for my CERT team to prepare for and understand what their response responsibilities would be in the aftermath of a hurricane if it ever involved Groton.”

The exercise also gave Williams an opportunity to give volunteers an idea of what would happen in the Emergency Operations Center while they were in the field; where, how and from whom they would get their assignments, and how they would interact with responders. “It takes the education we give them in the 20-hour basic training course and puts it to use,” he said. 

A webinar providing an overview of the exercise series is scheduled for Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. PST.

Organizers have planned another webinar for Feb. 3 to discuss the Jan. 29 earthquake exercise in a broader context of what is next for neighborhoods based on lessons learned and give participants an opportunity to ask questions about specific steps they should take to improve the preparedness of their neighborhoods and teams. 

So far groups representing sectors from across the economy in 38 states have registered to take part in the upcoming exercise series, according to the Formidable Footprint website.