Eastern Michigan University

Environmental Health & Safety

direct edit
  • For assistance call 734.487.0799



Drills and exercises range in size from small tabletop discussions to full scale responses with multiple organizations involved.  EMU Emergency Management uses an annual exercise implementation plan to organize the scheduling of drills and exercises to cover the widest range of topics and scales possible.  

Through exercises, the University is able to assess capabilities so that strengths and areas for improvement are identified, corrected, and shared as appropriate prior to a real incident.  

Below are a listing and explanation of the types of drills and exercises available through the Emergency Management Office.


Discussion-Based Exercises

Discussion-based exercises are normally used as a starting point in the building-block approach of
escalating exercise complexity. Discussion-based exercises include seminars, workshops, tabletop
exercises, and games.  Facilitators and/or presenters usually lead the discussion, keeping participants on track toward meeting exercise objectives.



Seminars are informal discussions, unconstrained by real-time portrayal of events and led by a presenter.
They are generally employed to orient participants to, or provide an overview of, authorities, strategies,
plans, policies, procedures, protocols, response resources, and/or concepts and ideas. Seminars provide a good starting point for entities that are developing or making major changes to their plans and procedures.



Workshops differ from seminars in two important respects: participant interaction is increased, and the focus is on achieving or building a product (such as a draft plan or policy). Workshops are often employed in conjunction with exercise development to determine objectives, develop scenarios, and define evaluation criteria.

Tabletop Exercises

Tabletops involve key personnel discussing hypothetical scenarios in an informal setting. This type of
exercise can be used to assess plans, policies, and procedures or to assess the systems needed to guide the prevention of, response to, and recovery from a defined incident. Participants are encouraged to discuss issues in depth and develop decisions through slow-paced problem solving, rather than the rapid, spontaneous decision making that occurs under actual or simulated emergency conditions. The effectiveness of a tabletop exercise is derived from the energetic involvement of participants and their assessment of recommended revisions to current policies, procedures, and plans.

Players apply their knowledge and skills to a list of problems presented by the leader/moderator; problems are discussed as a group; and the leader generally agrees on and summarizes the resolutions.
They are effective for evaluating group problem solving, personnel contingencies, group message
interpretation, information sharing, interagency coordination, and achievement of specific objectives.



A game is a simulation of operations that often involves two or more teams and uses rules, data, and
procedures to depict an actual or assumed real-life situation. The goal of a game is to explore decision making processes and the consequences of those decisions.

Operations-Based Exercises

Operations-based exercises represent the next level of the exercise cycle. They are used to validate the
plans, policies, agreements, and procedures solidified in discussion-based exercises. Operations-based
exercises include drills, functional exercises (FEs), and full-scale exercises (FSEs). They can clarify roles and responsibilities, identify gaps in resources needed to implement plans and procedures, and improve individual and team performance. Operations-based exercises are characterized by actual reaction to simulated intelligence; response to emergency conditions; mobilization of apparatus, resources, and/or networks; and commitment of personnel, usually over an extended period of time.



A drill is a coordinated, supervised activity usually employed to validate a single, specific operation or
function in a single agency or organizational entity. Drills are commonly used to provide training on new
equipment, develop or validate new policies or procedures, or practice and maintain current skills. Ypsilanti Fire TruckTypical attributes of drills include:
• a narrow focus, measured against established standards; 
• immediate feedback;
• a realistic environment; and
• performance in isolation.


Functional Exercises 

An FE is designed to validate and evaluate individual capabilities, multiple functions, activities within a
function, or interdependent groups of functions. Events are projected through an exercise scenario with event updates that drive activity at the management level. An FE simulates the reality of operations in a functional area by presenting complex and realistic problems that require rapid and effective responses by trained personnel in a highly stressful, time-constrained environment.

Full-Scale Exercises

The FSE is the most complex type of exercise. FSEs are multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional, multiorganizational exercises that validate many facets of preparedness. They focus on implementing and
analyzing the plans, policies, procedures, and cooperative agreements developed in discussion-based
exercises and honed in previous, smaller, operations-based exercises. In FSEs, the reality of operations in multiple functional areas presents complex and realistic problems that require critical thinking, rapid
problem solving, and effective responses by trained personnel.  FSEs are conducted in real time, creating a stressful, time-constrained environment that closely mirrors real events. Response-focused FSEs include many first responders operating under the principles of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to effectively and efficiently respond to an incident. Personnel and resources are mobilized and deployed to the scene where they conduct their activities as if a real incident had occurred (with minor exceptions).