Fairfax County EOC Exercise

Last fall the EMSI team designed and delivered an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Functional Exercise for Fairfax County (Virginia) Department of Emergency Management and Security. The Exercise Design team included planners from county emergency management, police, and fire and rescue (including EMS), among other partners and stakeholders. Many of those same exercise planning team members served as evaluators and filled roles in the simulation cell during the exercise. The exercise scenario simulated a response to an active shooter in a county government building and resulted in a full activation of the EOC to include all EOC leadership positions and ESF functions. Exercise play was focused on EOC activation, notifications, operations support, and coordination.  

 The exercise began with an operational briefing to the full EOC staff. Exercise players were provided with a chronology of the incident from the first 911 call at 8:00 am to the activation of the EOC at 9:15 am. Information included the deployment of police and fire/rescue resources, the apprehension of the shooter, and plans to clear and evacuate the building. Over the next five hours the simulation cell (SIMCELL) delivered more than 200 exercise “injects”. The SIMCELL represented all people, agencies, and organizations external to the EOC 

The exercise injects were carefully crafted and delivered to realistically challenge the EOC to respond to and manage a spectrum of issues and challenges associated with coordinating the response to an active shooter event at a major government building in Fairfax County. These included providing support for the on-scene responders, assisting with the muster and accountability of staff and visitors at the building, assessing the potential threat to other buildings, facilitating communications and information management with other county and state agencies and County Leadership, responding to media demands, assessing and executing requirements for a Family Assistance Center and implementing continuity of operations (COOP) procedures for the impacted county agencies. In advance of the exercise, the EOC conducted a notification exercise of the Employee Alert Network (EAN) the day prior.  

Exercise Observations and Lessons Learned 

  • The diverse multiagency representation in the EOCto include experience, skills, knowledge, and functional expertiseis a tremendous strength for Fairfax County. Effective crisis and emergency management is not solely an emergency management function and engaging the “whole of government” and “whole community” ensures preparedness, Unity of Effort, and effective all-hazards response management and coordination for Fairfax County. 
  • The time and human resource commitment required for a full activation EOC exercise cannot be underestimated; this includes resources to plan for, control, evaluate, and participate in the exercise. In addition to the extraordinary effort from the exercise design and planning team, the exercise players in the EOC were fully engaged and committed to responding to and managing the myriad of challenges presented during the exercise. Exercise players demonstrated effective multiagency coordination and cooperation, information exchange, formal and informal communication, and complex and collaborative problem solving. To enhance capacity and resilience, several exercise players mentored trainees in new positions, providing valuable coaching, insight, and professional development for future EOC leaders.
  • The observations collected during the exercise – including direct feedback submitted by exercise players – highlighted best practices and areas for continued improvement, including recommendations for additional training, updates to plans and procedures, resources that would enhance the response, and suggestions for future exercises. A commitment to continuous improvement, professional development, and preparedness was demonstrated by all participating agencies/organizations and individual participants. Participants noted that they felt better prepared as a result of the exercise, a hallmark of a successful exercise. 

EMSI support for this exercise was provided under our Public Safety Training and Exercise contract with Fairfax County.  A unique and versatile contract, other government and public entities within the United States (at all levels of government) are permitted to use the contract, including the terms and pricing, to work directly with EMSI for services included in the contract. A wide range of training and exercise support is available through this contract including ICS-300 and ICS-400 training, FEMA/EMI All-Hazards Position Specific (AHPS) ICS training, USFA All-Hazards IMT (O-305) training, custom developed training courses, exercise design and execution, and evaluation and after-action reviews for exercise and real-world incidents, among other public safety and emergency management support services. For additional information on how to work with EMSI in a streamlined manner through this Cooperative Purchasing agreement, please email info@emsics.com or call EMSI at 540-423-9004.