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National Level Exercise



The National Level Exercise (NLE) is the nation’s cornerstone exercise for validating progress toward achieving the national culture of preparedness required to prepare for and respond to catastrophic events. NLEs are a progressive build of preparedness activities over the two-year cycle of the National Exercise Program, which culminate in a full-scale exercise.

NLEs Build a Culture of Preparedness

Shows how separate entities connect to make up whole community engagement.  The entities are Individuals and Communities; Nonprofit Organizations; Critical Infrastructure; Private Sector Businesses; State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Partners; and Federal Departments and Agencies.The National Level Exercise program provides many opportunities for individuals, families, and communities to participate and better prepare for disasters of all sizes and scopes. These exercises provide the tools to promote preparedness through many channels.

National Level Exercises build upon real-world incidents to make sure that our nation is better prepared when the next disaster strikes. For example, the unprecedented 2017 Atlantic hurricane season highlighted the importance of working together before, during, and after disasters.  Therefore, National Level Exercise 2018 examined the ability of all levels of government, private industry, and nongovernmental organizations to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a major Mid-Atlantic hurricane.

FEMA leveraged the National Level Exercise and its participating organizations as an opportunity to amplify the hurricane preparedness message to individuals, businesses, and community organizations in advance of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. This is just one example of the ways that the National Level Exercise program has been used to build a culture of preparedness across the Nation.

Whole Community Participation and Partnerships

National Level Exercises support whole community participation and partnerships throughout the nation with the involvement of all levels of government, private industries, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals. When it comes to keeping our nation safe, everyone plays a vital role. Participating in National Level Exercises gives you and your organization the platform to collaborate on ways to better prepare for disasters in your community.

National Level Exercises aren’t just for government departments and agencies; in fact, some of our most valuable stakeholders are private sector and community organizations that have direct access to individuals through their customer bases or memberships. Voluntary organizations are also valued partners because of the pivotal role they play in supporting critical lifelines during emergency response. It is crucial that these types of organizations get the opportunity to exercise the roles they would play in a real-world incident.

Above all, National Level Exercises help us develop preparedness practices for all citizens, across all sectors and levels of government.

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NLE Overview

The Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA) of 2006 addressed the shortfalls in the preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina by granting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) more autonomy within DHS, empowering the agency with more resources and responsibilities, and further defining the agency’s role in emergency management. Among other requirements, this act mandated the President to establish and maintain a National Preparedness Goal and National Preparedness System to better prevent, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against disasters of all kinds, including acts of terrorism.

As a key component of the National Preparedness System, the National Exercise Program (NEP) is the principal mechanism for examining and validating core capabilities nationwide across all preparedness mission areas. The NEP consists of a two-year, progressive cycle of exercises across the whole community anchored to a common set of strategic objectives that culminates in a biennial National Level Exercise.

The National Level Exercise is congressionally mandated in PKEMRA, which states that “the Administrator [of FEMA] shall periodically, but not less than biennially, perform national exercises . . . to test and evaluate the capability of Federal, State, Local, and Tribal governments to detect, disrupt, and prevent threatened or actual catastrophic acts of terrorism, especially those involving weapons of mass destruction,” and “to test and evaluate the readiness of Federal, State, local, and tribal governments to respond and recover in a coordinated and unified manner to catastrophic incidents.” (United States Code, Title 6, Chapter 2, Subchapter II, Part A, Section 748(b)(3).)

Past National Level Exercises

National Level Exercise 2018

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leads national-level exercises every two years. National Level Exercise 2018 brought together more than 12,000 individuals across the whole community to examine the ability of all levels of government, private industry, and nongovernmental organizations to protect against, respond to, and recover from a major Mid-Atlantic hurricane. Additionally, more than 450,000 individuals participated in personal preparedness activities and accountability drills as part of the exercise.

Over the first two weeks of May, NLE 2018 provided a unique chance to examine lessons from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria last fall to improve operations and coordination across all levels of government, the private sector, and the public in advance of the 2018 hurricane season. This is captured in the NLE 2018 Conduct Executive Summary.

Click the following link for more information on NLE 2018.

Capstone 2016

Capstone Exercise 2016 examined authorities and capabilities needed to ensure our nation’s ability to prevent terrorist acts against the homeland, coordinate the response to a catastrophic incident, communicate to the American people, and continue performing essential government functions during a disaster. Capstone 2016 involved a series of five events. The exercise began with an analysis of threats originating abroad and then transitioned into a domestic crisis management and emergency response exercise.

Capstone 2014

Capstone Exercise 2014 was a complex emergency preparedness exercise comprised of five distinct, but linked, component events. The Alaska Shield 2014 exercise, sponsored by the State of Alaska to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake, provided the central scenario elements: significant damage from both the quake and the tsunami it triggers affect the greater Pacific Northwest. Capstone Exercise 2014 included several preparedness activities sponsored by other departments and agencies and was designed to educate and prepare the whole community for complex, large-scale disasters and emergencies.

National Level Exercise 2012

NLE 2012 was a series of exercise events that examined the ability of the United States to execute a coordinated response to a series of significant cyber incidents. NLE 2012 emphasized the shared responsibility among all levels of government, the private sector, and the international community to secure cyber networks and coordinate response and recovery actions. NLE 2012 was focused on examining four major themes: planning and implementation of the draft National Cyber Incident Response Plan (NCIRP), coordination among governmental entities, information sharing, and decision making.


Last Updated: 
10/04/2019 - 10:39