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National Exercise Program

The National Preparedness Goal calls for a secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk. To achieve the National Preparedness Goal, the National Preparedness System organizes actions to build, sustain, and deliver the core capabilities in greatest need of sustainment and improvement. Exercises are a key component of National Preparedness System; they provide officials and stakeholders across the whole community with the opportunity to assess and validate capabilities, improve coordination, and identify areas for improvement and strengths.

 1) Identifying and Assessing Risk, 2) Estimating Capability Requirements, 3) Building and Sustaining Capabilities, 4) Planning to Deliver Capabilities, 5) Validating Capabilities, and 6) Reviewing and Updating. While most parts are blue in color, Validating capabilities is in green to call out the National Exercise Program's role within the National Preparedness System.

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 (Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery).
The NEP consists of a two-year, progressive cycle of select exercises across the homeland security enterprise anchored to a common set of strategic objectives—called Principals’ Objectives—that culminates in a biennial National Level Exercise.
Exercises are nominated into the NEP and selected based on their alignment to the Principals’ Objectives. The types of exercises selected into the program may include facilitated policy discussions, seminars and workshops, tabletop exercises, drills, functional exercises, and full-scale exercises—all of which may be sponsored by organizations from any level of government, non-governmental and private sector organizations, and other partners across the whole community.


  • Aligns common challenges and emerging issues identified by states, local jurisdictions, tribes, and territories into national strategic objectives called Principals’ Objectives, issued by the Principals Committee of the National Security Council at the White House.
  • Provides a means to assess the ability to build, sustain, and deliver core capabilities of national focus; validate plans, training, and equipment; draw out resource gaps; and identify areas for improvement.
  • Provides exercise design and delivery assistance for exercises that align to the Principals’ Objectives.
  • Integrates evaluation results from each exercise into an overall analysis of the nation’s readiness, informing the National Preparedness Report.

Priorities Driven by Data

Image consists of two document pictures. The upper document is the cover of the National Preparedness Report for 2016. The lower picture is a page taken from the National Preparedness Report showing a table titled 2016 State and Territory Capability Levels. The table describes the level of preparedness U.S. States and Territories have regarding the National Preparedness System's Core Capabilities. The image, overall, is being used to convey idea that the National Exercise Program is informed by data from national homeland security enterprise findings.As the National Preparedness System matures, we are getting better data on our capabilities as a nation that we can use to drive our focus and our resources at all levels. States and territories provide annual data on their proficiency across 32 core capabilities through the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment, State Preparedness Reports, After-Action Reports, and other preparedness data. This data feeds into the National Preparedness Report and forms a shared national picture of training and exercise needs relative to capability gaps—including what threats and hazards are posing the greatest risks, and what core capabilities are most in need of improvement or sustainment. Analytic results help shape exercise prioritization decisions at FEMA and across the nation to make sure we are focusing our time and our resources in the right areas.​ 

The Two-Year Cycle

The national strategic direction of the two-year NEP cycle is informed by local needs and priorities through the National Preparedness System, and then backed by the White House through the Principals’ Objectives.

Table showing a National Exercise Program column and a National Preparedness Analysis column and how they feed one another. The left column, with a header of National Exercise Program, consists of downward moving cells which contain 1) Develop after-action reports and improvement plans, 2) Identify lessons learned, 3) Validate core capabilities, and 4) Engage the whole community. An arrow moves from this column to the right, connecting it to the National Preparedness Analysis column which consists of downward moving cells which contain 1) Extract trends from SPR, THIRA, and NPR data, 2) Distill insights from intelligence and risk assessments, 3) Examine real-world events for emerging threats, and 4) Generate key analytical findings. At the bottom of this column a left-moving arrow titled Preparedness analysis informs focus of NEP connects back the National Exercise Program column.

Benefits of Participating

Exercise Design and Delivery Assistance
  • Opportunity for assistance with exercise design, scenario development, planning, conduct, and evaluation in the form of subject matter expertise, technical assistance, and other support for selected exercises 
Tools and Resources
  • Build upon an extensive network of existing exercises
  • Access tools and resources, such as templates and analysis, that will help you design exercises that link to other preparedness activities 
Building Relationships
  • Broaden the impact of an exercise to a wider group of stakeholders, while building new relationships and improving coordination
  • Expand opportunities through new exercise ideas and relationships with partners throughout the nation 
Contribute to Preparedness
  • Demonstrate an organization’s level of preparedness in a national context
  • Directly contribute exercise evaluation data that will validate the nation’s ability to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from threats and hazards that post the greatest risks
  • Influence and inform policy decisions, resource allocation, and the focus of national preparedness programs

Delivering High-Quality Exercises

 The NEP ensures that exercises examine and/or validate corrective actions from previous exercises or real-world events.

Ways to Participate

Sponsoring organizations should follow the process below to participate in the NEP:

  1. Review the Principals' Objectives – All NEP exercises must support one or more of the Principals' Objectives. The Principal Objectives' are high-level strategic objectives based on national preparedness priorities across the homeland security enterprise. Currently, there are seven Principals' Objectives for the 2017-2018 cycle of the NEP:
    • Intelligence and Information Sharing: Examine and validate core capabilities and processes to rapidly exchange and analyze appropriate classified and unclassified information among federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, private sector and international partners prior to and during an incident that threatens the security of the nation. Click here for PO1 Fact Sheet.
    • Lead Federal Agency Coordination: Examine the ability of departments and agencies to identify and validate appropriate authorities and roles, lead federal agency responsibilities, incident management resources, and organizational operational structure to prepare for, respond to, and recover from incidents where there is no clear lead federal agency identified in statue or regulation. Click here for PO2 Fact Sheet

    • Multidisciplinary Response Operations for Complex Incidents: Examine the ability of federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions to conduct integrated multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary response planning, and to coordinate operations among law enforcement, fire and medical services, emergency management, and other whole community stakeholders for incidents with crisis and consequence management components such as complex terrorist attacks. Click here for PO3 Fact Sheet.

    • Cyber Coordination: Examine the ability of whole community stakeholders to implement national policy, frameworks, and guidance, and to apply relevant authorities, plans, procedures, and available resources to achieve a coordinated response to significant cyber incidents. Click here for PO4 Fact Sheet.

    • Recovery Coordination: Demonstrate the ability of the whole community, especially state, territorial, tribal, and local governments, to perform effective recovery coordination and planning in parallel with response operations to achieve long-term community recovery objectives. Click here for PO5 Fact Sheet.

    • Infectious Disease and Biological Incidents: Examine the ability of federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions to implement coordinated, integrated response structures and strategies; detect and categorize disease threats; address domestic and international public health implications; control and contain disease outbreaks; deliver public health and medical services; and communicate with external partners and the public during infectious disease pandemics and biological incidents. Click here for PO6 Fact Sheet.

    • Catastrophic Incidents: Examine the ability of the whole community to deliver life-saving and life-sustaining capabilities to survivors following a catastrophic incident that severely affects communities and critical infrastructure. Click here for PO7 Fact Sheet.

  2. Download and Complete the Exercise Nomination Form – The 2017-2018 NEP Nomination Form is formatted as an Adobe PDF file that can be saved and revised by sponsoring organizations as needed. The nomination form contains embedded instructions and links to other sources of guidance to assist sponsoring organizations in completing the form. Exercise sponsors should should also coordinate their nomination with the appropriate FEMA Regional Exercise Officer.
  3. Submit the Exercise Nomination Form – All completed exercise nomination forms must be emailed to Please include “National Exercise Program Exercise Nomination” in the email subject line.


Last Updated: 
07/30/2018 - 11:01