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National Exercise Program

The National Exercise Program (NEP) is a two-year cycle of exercises across the nation that examine and validate capabilities in all preparedness mission areas. Each NEP cycle is guided by Principals’ Strategic Priorities, established by the Principals Committee of the National Security Council and informed by preparedness data from jurisdictions across the nation. FEMA's National Exercise Division administers the NEP on behalf of the federal government, facilitating the design, coordination, conduct, evaluation and analysis of NEP exercises.

As part of the National Preparedness System, the NEP is a key component in developing a culture of preparedness, empowering communities and individuals to become more resilient against the threats and hazards that Americans face.

Click here for NEP 2019-2020 Cycle Fact Sheets.

To Participate in the National Exercise Program:

Nominations are Accepted Twice a Year – Exercises can be submitted between March 1st - March 31st , and again between September 1st – October 1st with decisions sent by May 1st and November 1st .  If one of the dates falls on a weekend (i.e. If March 1st falls on a Sunday) the start date or deadline will shift to the next business day.

  1. Download and Complete the Exercise Nomination Form  – The NEP Exercise Nomination Form is an Adobe PDF file that can be saved and revised by sponsoring organizations as needed until ready to submit. Exercise sponsors should also coordinate their nomination with the appropriate FEMA Regional Exercise Officer.
  2. 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.

*NEW* Exercise Starter Kit on Reconstituting Operations

As organizations across the country plan for how to return to full operations and protect the wellbeing and safety of their employees and communities, FEMA’s National Exercise Division and National Continuity Programs have collaborated to develop an Exercise Starter Kit on Reconstituting Operations. This Exercise Starter Kit is designed to be shared across the whole community to help organizations, including government agencies, conduct their own planning workshops to navigate the complexities of returning to full operations during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. As part of the National Exercise Program, FEMA maintains a series of Exercise Starter Kits accessed through the Preparedness Toolkit designed to help organizations facilitate their own exercises, such as workshops and tabletop exercises, to examine their readiness for a range of threats and hazards.


How the NEP Works

  • Sponsors from any level of government (state, local, tribal, territorial or federal), private-sector organizations, non-profit organizations, and other community partners can nominate exercises to be part of the NEP.
  • Exercises can be discussion-based (seminars, workshops, tabletop exercises, games) or operations-based (drills, functional exercises, full-scale exercises).
  • Exercises are selected for the NEP based on their alignment to strategic priorities for each two-year cycle set by the National Security Council.
  • Exercises in the NEP contribute evaluation data to the National Preparedness System to provide a clearer picture of the nation's readiness, such as through the National Preparedness Report.
  • As a culmination of each NEP cycle, the National Exercise Division leads a biennial National Level Exercise that builds off of exercises and other preparedess activities conducted during the cycle.

Benefits of Participating in the NEP

Exercise Design and Delivery Assistance
  • If desired, receive technical assistance and support for your exercises from experienced exercise specialists through the National Exercise Division.
  • Support could include assistance with exercise design, scenario development, planning, conduct, and evaluation in the form of subject-matter expertise, material production, or facilitation 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.

Principals' Strategic Priorities for 2019-2020

All NEP exercises must support one or more of the Principals' Strategic Priorities. Currently, there are nine priorities for the 2019-2020 cycle of the NEP:

  1. Operational Coordination and Communications: Examine the ability of law enforcement, fire and medical services, public health, and other emergency management partners to conduct integration operational planning, establish and incident command structure, ensure interoperable communications, share information, and maintain a common operating picture during an incident.  Click here for PSP1 Fact Sheet.
  2. Cybersecurity: Examine the ability of the whole community to synchronize cyber defense measures, authorities, information sharing, and public messaging—from prevention through response—and to coordinate internal and external cyber response activities including rapid threat notification. Click here for PSP2 Fact Sheet

  3. Stabilization and Restoration of Critical Lifelines: Examine the ability of public- and private-sector partners to mitigate risks to infrastructure systems; leverage mutual assistance and private-sector resources; and prioritize, stabilize, and restore critical lifelines such as communications, energy, hazardous waste management, healthcare, food and water, safety and security and transportation. Click here for PSP3 Fact Sheet.

  4. National Security Emergencies: Examine the ability of all levels of government to identify appropriate roles and required authorities; proactively share incident information; coordinate decision-making; prioritize and mobilize resources; continue essential functions; protect affected populations; and conduct effective public messaging for any incident that threatens the national security of the United States. Click here for PSP4 Fact Sheet.

  5. Public Health Emergencies: Examine the ability of the whole community to implement integrated response operations against infectious diseases or other public health incidents by conducting biosurveillance; detecting, categorizing, controlling and containing threats; implementing medical and nonmedical countermeasures; rapidly communicating with external partners and the public; and addressing the aftereffects of any health emergency.   Click here for PSP5 Fact Sheet.

  6. Community Recovery and Economic Resilience: Examine the ability of the whole community to implement mitigation and recovery plans, strategies and programs that are federally supported, state managed and locally executed to achieve long-term recovery objectives, including economic resilience among community businesses, households, and individuals. Click here for PSP6 Fact Sheet.

  7. Mass Care and Housing: Examine the ability of the whole community to provide disaster survivors with streamlined, coordinated, and inclusive life-sustaining services—such as feeding, reunification, and distribution of emergency supplies—from congregate sheltering through long-term housing. Click here for PSP7 Fact Sheet.

  8. Continuity: Examine the ability of partners across the whole community, including businesses and government at all levels, to execute continuity plans and continue essential functions and services during an incident where key personnel, facilities, or systems are directly threatened or impacted. Click here for PSP8 Fact Sheet.

  9. School Safety and Security: Examine the ability of K-12 school and higher education officials and community partners with roles and responsibilities in school safety to identify, prioritize and plan for potential threats or hazards; establish lines of coordination and communication, share information, execute emergency plans during an incident; and validate training and resources to provide for the well-being of students and staff before, during and after an incident. Click here for PSP9 Fact Sheet.

Exercise Nomination Tips

All exercises will be considered; however, support is dependent upon resource availability. The NEP uses the following guidance when reviewing nomination packages for support. Strong nominations will:

  • Align to at least one of the 2019 – 2020 Principal’s Strategic Priorities (PSPs)
  • Link the exercise to an existing or draft plan
  • Build upon corrective actions previously identified in exercise or real-world events
  • Attach copies of plans and/or corrective actions that will be examined during the exercise
  • Engage a broad spectrum of participants (whole community)
  • Address capability gaps in the Stakeholder Preparedness Review (SPR), if applicable
  • Provide a clear picture of the support needed by the National Exercise Division to conduct your exercise




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, some tribes and territories provide annual data on their proficiency across 32 core capabilities through the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment, Stakeholder 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.​ 

NEP Cycle Development

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’ Strategic Priorities.

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.

National Exercise Program End of Cycle Report

The National Exercise Program End of Cycle Report contains findings from the 2017-2018 NEP exercise cycle.  These findings validated the need to improve various capabilities, revealed persistent challenges related to operational communications, highlighted the importance of consistent and accurate public information updates and warnings ready to be deployed in the event of a disaster, and demonstrated the utility of preparedness data in guiding exercise design.

The information contained in this document was used to shape the development of the 2019-2020 Principals’ Strategic Priorities, which will guide our exercise investment over the next two years.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What kind of support is available through the National Exercise Program?


A: Through the NEP, the National Exercise Division’s team of practitioners offers direct exercise support – such as staff time and materials production – for the design, development, conduct, and evaluation of accepted exercises. Support requests can be as simple as requesting a facilitator for a tabletop exercise or complex as delivering a full-scale exercise.


Q: Do exercise sponsors have to pay for NEP support?


A: Exercise support is available at no cost to sponsors. The National Exercise Division works with sponsors to determine how best our staff’s technical assistance can supplement a sponsor’s existing resources and capabilities.


Q: How far in advance of my exercise should I submit a nomination?


A: In general, to allow for a sufficient planning timeline we recommend at least 4 months between NEP acceptance and conduct for discussion-based exercises or 9-12 months for operations-based exercises. Any exceptions would be made on a case-by-case basis.


Q: My jurisdiction does not need any exercise support from the National Exercise Division, can I still participate in the NEP?


A: After action reports (AARs) contain crucial data that, when viewed in the aggregate, provide vital insights into preparedness trends and help shape priorities for the nation’s exercises.  Sponsors interested in sharing AAR results can submit data directly to and do not need to go through the nomination process.


Q: My exercise conduct is planned for 2021. Which Principals’ Strategic Priorities should my exercise align with?


A: The NEP will continue to use the 2019-2020 Principals’ Strategic Priorities for the Spring 2020 nomination round, regardless of the conduct date of nominated exercises. We will issue new priorities before the Fall 2020 round that will cover the 2021-2022 NEP cycle, based on data from the 2019 THIRA/SPR results, National Preparedness Report, AARs, and other data sources as they become available.


Last Updated: 
05/19/2020 - 16:43