Emergency preparedness plans must be regularly exercised. This is necessary to develop and maintain competence. Good emergency preparedness plans and regular training will improve the quality of service that is available to citizens when crises, accidents or disasters strike. The training requirements of community crisis response teams should be considered early in the planning process. Hazard identification and risk assessments should be performed to determine which types of incidents should be rehearsed.

There are several types of exercises, ranging from discussion-based exercises such as a table-top exercise, to the more comprehensive full-scale exercises. In a table-top exercise, participants are gathered to discuss scenarios presented by a facilitator. Table-top exercises are often used as preparation for a full-scale exercise.

Large full-scale exercises are extensive. They require multi-agency co-operation to solve huge and complex tasks. Full-scale exercises should resemble a real event as closely as possible, preferably conducted in “real time” and under realistic weather conditions.

Exercises improve the ability to manage stressful challenges and can reduce the risk of psychological reactions following work in a disaster situation. Exercises with multi-agency participation improve co-operation between the different agencies and increase their understanding of each other’s methods and work culture. Exercises should include everyone who is expected to have a role in disaster relief, including voluntary organisations.

Experiences and weaknesses that become evident during the exercise should lay the foundations for revision of plans and action cards.