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Preparing Scotland Exercise Guidance

November 2022

1. Exercise Introduction

Why What Who


Why Exercise?

The Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) requires Category 1 responders to train and exercise to ensure their emergency plans as well as business continuity plans are effective (CCA duties to maintain emergency plans and maintain business continuity plans – Regulations 19[a] and 19[b]). Relevant planning documents must contain a statement about the nature of the training and exercising to be provided, and its frequency.

Other legislation exists which also require training and exercising to be carried out, notably in relation to COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards), pipeline, nuclear and airport regulations and licensing.

Often therefore the answer to the question ‘why exercise’ is around the requirement to:

  • Validate plans
  • Develop staff competencies and give them practice in carrying out their roles in the plans
  • Test well-established procedures.


Exercises also plan a key role in assessing and exploring:

  • The response to a risk, particularly a new risk that has been identified through the appropriate risk assessments
  • Specific gaps in capability (including those identified under the Risk and Preparedness Assessment process) which requires urgent action
  • Lessons identified from a previous event or operation to determine the extent to which these lessons identified have been learnt
  • Different strategies, tactics, procedures or equipment by artificially simulating circumstances in a safe environment
  • Preparation for a pre-determined event.


The most important question to ask prior to undertaking exercise planning is: Why is this exercise required?


Why What Who


What to Exercise?

Exercises can be resource intensive, both in the planning phase and ensuring the right people are available to participate both before, during and after. It is therefore important that decisions around which areas are most in need of exercising are based on sound evidence.

RRPs use three key sources of evidence to identify what to exercise:

  • Their plans (emergency plans and business continuity plans)
  • Their Risk and Preparedness Assessment (an assessment of risks to the area and the consequences of these risks followed by an assessment of how prepared the partnership is to respond to the consequences)
  • Lessons identified from previous incidents and exercises.


The following broadly outlines how training and exercising needs are identified by the RRPs, addressed and evaluated. It is a cyclical approach focused on continuous improvement.


How training and exercising needs are identified by the RRPs


An Exercise Programme

Within Scotland, exercises may be programmed under the following 3 broad levels:






An individual organisation may have an exercise programme that is site or legislation specific.

Business Continuity plans or the functioning of a specific support centre.


Resilience Partnership exercise programmes will address the different functional areas that exist within the RRP/LRP.

Exercises should be scheduled to allow for appropriate participation and for lessons to be identified and incorporated in plans and future exercises.

Multi-agency exercises of off- site plans, football stadia, prisons, media liaison, and mass crowd events.


National Exercises can address national risks and incorporate participation at Scottish Government level.

Pandemic Influenza, failure of the Critical National Infrastructure, Counter Terrorism, and mass fatalities exercises.


An exercise programme should:

  • Clearly state the aim and objectives of the programme
  • Have an outline of what exercises will be needed to accomplish these objectives and the scope of each
  • Be scheduled so that sufficient time is available for participants to be trained
  • Continue to be reviewed to ensure objectives are being met
  • Take account of the availability of organisations/individuals that are required to contribute to the development of the exercise
  • Take into consideration the equality and diversity needs of the individuals involved in the exercise - e.g. access requirements, faith- based considerations etc
  • Cover a cyclic period as changing processes (internal and external) and new risks with different consequences require plans to be updated and remain viable
  • Give consideration to other exercise programmes to prevent any potential conflicts as well as consider if different exercise programmes (or components of these) could be used to achieve the aim and objectives
  • Grow with the organisation’s capability and level of maturity/preparedness (this is also applicable to the exercises themselves).


Taking a Modular Approach

It is unlikely that all elements of emergency response and recovery can be assessed in a single exercise. To properly examine all aspects it is therefore advisable to take a modular approach. This involves identifying all the elements of emergency response and recovery arrangements such as:

  • Incident Management components such as call-out, coordination and the use of control centres
  • Communication between agencies and with the public
  • Care for people
  • Individual agencies responsibilities
  • Specialist elements such as decontamination, casualties or search and rescue
  • Recovery.


Then determining when and how best to assess each element. The end result is an auditable and transparent record showing the different elements and when and how different elements were last assessed.

The record may also include:

  • Whether or not the success criteria has been met for each objective/phase
  • The method by which each of the criteria has been evaluated
  • How this has been recorded to provide the evidence
  • Any follow-up actions that have resulted following an exercise
  • How the lessons will be communicated both up and down.


Types of Exercise

When deciding what type of exercise to run you should consider exactly what you are trying to be achieve and the best way to achieve it. On occasion the type of exercise may be directed by legislation. If this is not the case it is essential to choose a format for the exercise which is the most appropriate and cost effective way of achieving the specific aim and objectives.

There are four main types of exercise:


1. Discussion Exercise

Discussion Exercises, also known as Workshops or Concept Reviews, are structured events where participants can explore issues in a less pressurised environment. The emphasis of this type of exercise is on a specific problem that has been identified with the aim being to find a possible solution, rather than the focus being on decision making.

These exercises may prove to be the most cost effective and less time consuming type of exercise. Examples of when a discussion exercise may be appropriate include:

  • Informing participants of a new plan or procedure
  • Introducing individuals to their new or potential future role
  • Updating staff on new developments and ideology
  • Assisting plan or procedural development
  • Exploring possible approaches to a scenario to hopefully agree to and document best practice.


2. Table Top

Table Top exercises involve a realistic scenario and a time line which may run in ‘real time’ or may include ‘time-jumps’ to allow different phases of the scenario to be exercised. Participants or exercise players are expected to know the plan/s being exercised and they are invited to test how these plans work as the scenario unfolds.

Table Top exercises can be a realistic, cost effective and efficient method of testing plans, procedures and/or people, as well as familiarising players with a particular location or site, and promoting a better understanding of the roles to be carried out by their own and other departments and agencies.

Used appropriately, media input to the exercise will greatly enhance the realism and therefore the training value of the exercise. During the planning phase of the exercise the role of media should be discussed and agreed. An element of media awareness could be introduced under controlled conditions, such as the preparation of press releases, news injects or the use of trainee journalists to play the role of news reporters.


3. Command/Control Post

Command Post exercises involve team leaders and key decision makers from all participating departments/organisations, working from the command locations that would be used in real events. They should be supported by the information and communication systems that would be operational in a real event. The management teams involved may be at an operational, tactical or strategic level and could be located indoors, outdoors or a combination of both.

In these exercises, management teams are given information in a way that simulates a real event. The teams are then expected to deal with the situations that they encounter, linking in to other management teams as necessary. The pace of exercise play can be controlled to provide collective training development. Alternatively, players can be invited to respond as they would for real, in order to enable evaluation rather than development of a management team. These exercises have the added advantage of testing information flow, communication and equipment, in addition to procedures, decision making and coordination.


4. Live

Live exercises can range from a small scale test of one component of the response, for example evacuation, through to a full scale test of the whole organisation. Live exercises are designed to include everyone likely to be involved in that part of the response.

Live exercises are particularly useful where there is a regulatory requirement or where a high risk to an organisation has been identified and the response and recovery plans need to be fully tested.

These exercises are the most realistic way to train people and test emergency and business continuity plans. However, there are a number of challenges

that by their nature might not always make a live exercise the most effective exercise format. If planning for a Live exercise careful consideration needs to be given to:

  • The high resource demand particularly during the development stages, as well as the overall financial cost
  • Restricting knowledge of the exercise details to only those that need to know to assist the accurate testing of a contingency plan
  • The reputation value for an organisation
  • The possibility of exposing exercising players and organisations to negative publicity if the exercise is carried out in the public or media eye
  • How any disruption to the normal operation of the organisation can be managed
  • The need for a large number of Exercise Directing staff
  • Planning the debriefing so that identification of lessons to be learnt is completed and co-ordinated for all levels and agencies involved.
Smarter Exercising

The Competent Authority (CA) recognises that exercises to test the internal and external plans for COMAH establishments can take a number of forms (seminars, walk through, table top, control post, live) and be combined in different ways to give confidence in the accuracy, completeness and practicability of the plans. The CA also recognises the benefits of avoiding unnecessary duplication where an exercise can satisfy a number of objectives:-

  • for both the internal and external plan for a particular establishment and
  • for more than one establishment, where because of their close proximity to each other, a generic external plan may be in place for elements common to all establishments with separate detailed annexes for each establishment as appropriate.

When a programme of emergency exercises is being drawn up for COMAH establishments, it is important that participating organisations are identified and involved at the earliest stages of planning the programme to ensure maximum benefit to all concerned in testing their own organisations performance.

Further guidance on the review and testing of emergency plans for COMAH establishments can be found in L111 Guidance on the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015 available for download from the HSE website

Methods of Delivery

In addition to these types of exercises a number of delivery methods may be used. These may include:

  • Controlled or Free Play
  • Computer simulation
  • Paper feeds
  • Talk through – walk through
  • Demonstration
  • Video conferencing
  • Email
  • Web-based
  • Incorporating ‘time-outs’ or ‘pauses’ during exercise play to enable players to reflect and possibly re-focus (or ‘play again’)
  • A mixture of all of the above!



Annex A - Types of Exercise: ‘Pros’ & ‘Cons’ Matrix


Why What Who


The Exercise Team

Each exercise has a number of key participants. In large exercises, several people will be involved in managing the event. For a small exercise, a single individual may take on many functions.

This section provides details of the various roles involved in exercises. While each role should be fulfilled, it is possible for numerous roles to be undertaken by the same person, depending on:

  • The complexity of the exercise
  • The number of agencies involved
  • The nature of the exercise
  • The exercise security classification
  • The time available for planning.


1. Exercise Sponsor

Each exercise should have a Sponsor who is accountable for the event. The Sponsor will identify the need for the exercise, agree a budget, monitor delivery and is responsible for ensuring lessons are identified during the exercise and followed-up afterwards.

Rather than an individual the Sponsor is likely to be an organisation or a collection of organisations, for example a RRP. However, it is likely that an individual or small team will act as the representative of the agency and become the Sponsor for planning purposes.


2. Exercise Director

The Exercise Director is accountable to the Sponsor for the management of the exercise. This includes managing the planning, exercise play and post exercise procedures. Although health and safety is not a delegated matter and each individual agency is responsible for its own resources the Exercise Director should also ensure that an overall exercise risk assessment is produced.

During the planning phase of the exercise the Exercise Director will retain an overview and ensure that the competing or conflicting objectives of the various agencies meet the overall exercise aim and objectives. The Exercise Director is responsible for seeking agreement on the parameters and defining the limits of the exercise in terms of:

  • Type of exercise
  • Level of participation
  • Constraints (real play, geography, finance etc)
  • Timeframe (when and for how long).


3. Exercise Planner

The Exercise Planner is responsible for planning the exercise in detail. For most exercises it is impossible for all aspects of planning to be done by an individual and therefore an exercise planning team should be formed, comprising of members of the key agencies involved in the exercise. The planner/planning team may be responsible for a number of areas including:

  • Coordinating the activities of those involved in the preparation stages of the exercise
  • Reporting the course and progress of planning to the Exercise Director on a regular basis
  • Producing the draft Exercise Instruction for approval by the Exercise Director.


For larger exercises it may be advantageous if the Exercise Director and Exercise Planner are two separate individuals.


4. Exercise Directing Staff

During the running of exercises, there will be a number of Directing Staff who are responsible for controlling the pace and ensuring the continuity and smooth running of the exercise.

Intervention by any member of Directing Staff should be minimal and a last resort, to give the exercise players time to correct problems. Nevertheless, Directing Staff should intervene when there is confusion about the scenario or an organisational problem out of the control of the players. They should also intervene if the exercise objectives or safety of participants are threatened or when one person’s action/inaction is jeopardising the opportunities afforded by the exercise.

For large events, there may be a requirement for several Directing Staff.


5. Exercise Controller

The position of Exercise Controller will often be filled by the Exercise Planner or Director on the exercise date. It is this individual who is responsible for coordinating exercise activity and is ultimately responsible for ensuring that when a Main Events List (MEL) is used the exercise is conducted in accordance with the agreed timeline. However, flexibility will allow the Controller to use their own judgement and experience in timing the specific inputs.

Information flows should be continuous and it is essential that communication structures and direction of information flows (up, down, sideways) are defined during the planning stage.


6. Exercise Facilitators

Depending on the type of exercise that is being delivered, the Exercise Facilitators will take on different roles. For Live Play and Command Post exercises, the Facilitators’ functions could include the following:

Safety Staff
They are responsible for the safety of participants and the public.

Role Players
These should be those individuals who are deployed in and around those being exercised to bring realism to the exercise. They may act as casualties, or other role specific players. It is important they clearly understand the aim and objectives of the exercise, and that they clearly understand their role and the constraints placed on their actions.

Multiple Role Players
In some cases, people may be asked to play more than one role (e.g. at the end of a telephone or email link), to provide simulated input representative of a number of different roles that do not justify the use of a dedicated person for each.

During an exercise staff may be allocated specifically to the task of delivering or assessing the training of those involved.

For Table Top and Syndicate exercises, it is common for each table to also have its own facilitator. His/her role is to ensure that the momentum and direction of play is maintained accordingly. Specifically a Table Facilitator should:

  • Encourage everyone to contribute and ensure that the available time is not dominated by a few individuals
  • Identify individuals in the group who have unique expertise to be brought to bear on the subject under consideration
  • Move discussion on
  • Capture players' input
  • Concentrate on the process and not getting drawn into the content (i.e. avoiding value judgements on the views expressed)
  • Check self and group understanding
  • Identify broad areas of agreement and difference
  • Encourage consideration of as many of the issues as possible
  • Test the limits of the group’s ‘comfort zone’ when issues are assumed to be unproblematic
  • Summarise the group’s output and assist the group report it in plenary session
  • Communicate with the main facilitator to ensure that no important points are missed during feedback.


7. Exercise Players

Players are agency personnel who have an active role in responding to the simulated emergency and will perform and/or discuss their regular roles and responsibilities during the exercise. Various events will prompt reaction and players should proceed in accordance with established plans and/or procedures.

‘Non-playing’ personnel should be clearly identifiable. Tabards are most commonly used and identification of players should be clear by uniform or badge.


8. Umpires*

Umpires evaluate and assess the various exercise activities against set evaluation criteria to determine to what degree the objectives have been achieved. They are the eyes and the ears for the Exercise Director and Exercise Controller and need to be clearly briefed on what they should look for. They should have clear parameters regarding what advice or information they may give (if any) and to whom during the course of the exercise. Their role in advising on exercise progress and any concerns regarding welfare and safety matters and in debriefing participants at the conclusion of individual serials, or on completion of the exercise, is crucial.


9. Observers*

The role of Observers should be a passive one and they must be clearly briefed to that effect. They may be requested to visit the exercise for the purpose of assessing their own staff but not to assess the exercise itself. They may also visit the exercise to identify and learn lessons in preparation for future exercises. Observers should where possible, be invited to attend the debriefing after the exercise. Those unable to attend should submit their comments to the respective personnel responsible for collating the lessons.

Too many Observers can, if not carefully managed, cause confusion and detract from the exercise. They should have a real interest in the exercise and a quality briefing for them is essential prior to the exercise, highlighting the exercise aim, objectives and individual area of focus during the exercise. It may also be necessary to make available a member of the directing staff to explain events and procedures as the exercise unfolds.

*Note: Different organisations may use different terminology. For example, those tasked as Observers may be engaged in evaluation tasks that are more consistent with the definition of Umpire above.



You may find the Exercise Checklist helpful as it is a two page overview of the key tasks required to plan, deliver and evaluate an exercise.

Annex B - Exercise Checklist

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