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National Level Exercise



Coordinating the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is our top national priority. Accordingly, Administrator Gaynor has made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of National Level Exercise (NLE) 2020, to include the FEMA-led Binary Blackout and Eagle Horizon component exercises and the concept of one large, unified functional exercise in May. Other organizations leading component exercises linked to NLE 2020 will assess their own path forward in the coming days.

FEMA will work with our state, regional, and interagency partners to preserve the work that has been done, share the findings from the preparedness events we have already held, and look for opportunities in the future to continue this important work.

From the beginning, NLE 2020 was designed as a series of preparedness activities over a two-year cycle to prepare the Nation for some of our greatest threats. The preparedness events we have already held, including a series of cyber workshops in each of our FEMA Regions conducted in partnership with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), have already helped make our Nation more resilient. We also held informational webinars, conducted a national cyber preparedness seminar, facilitated a preparedness discussion among senior Federal officials, and even developed a board game to teach the basics of cybersecurity preparedness to the whole community. Through these efforts, we have already started to identify strengths and areas for improvement in our approach to a cyber incident with physical impacts, which has been the core focus of NLE 2020. Our work has advanced our national readiness and supports the important legislative requirement for a National Level Exercise every two years (6 U.S.C. § 748(b)(3)).

FEMA remains committed to preparing the Nation for the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk, including the cyber threats envisioned in NLE 2020. At this critical point in our Nation's history, however, our response to COVID-19 deserves our full focus and attention.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leads a National Level Exercise (NLE) every two years as part of the National Exercise Program to bring together and strengthen the whole community. The NLE is an opportunity for all levels of government, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and community groups to test operational capabilities, evaluate policies and plans, familiarize personnel with roles and responsibilities, and foster meaningful interaction and communication across the nation. Scenarios for the NLE range from natural disasters to manmade attacks, and address the specific types of threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk to the nation.

National Level Exercise 2020

NLE 2020 will focus on cybersecurity and involve a complex, multidimensional attack that reflects the global threat environment. Widespread cyberattacks will lead to significant impacts on critical infrastructure and community lifelines. State and regional play is focused in FEMA Region I (CT, ME, M.A., NH, RI, VT) and FEMA Region IX (CA, AZ, NV). Federal Department and Agencies will also participate from headquarters locations. The functional and full-scale components will be held in March and May 2020, but lead-up preparedness events have already started, including Regional Cyber Workshops hosted in partnership with the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in every FEMA Region. 1. Overseas Threat
 A sophisticated threat originates overseas, setting the stage for conflict
 2. Cyberattacks
 Widespread cyberattacks occur throughout the United States
 3. Critical Infrastructure
 Critical Infrastructure and community lifelines are disrupted by cyberattacks
 4. National Emergency
 The consequences of the cyberattacks result in a domestic national security emergency
 5. Continuity & Business Resilience
 Cyberattacks and cascading impacts drive continuity and business resilience activities


Cyber Workshops

Map of Primary Areas of NLE 2020 Conduct and Regional Cyber Workshops. State and regional play is focused in FEMA Region I (CT, ME, M.A., NH, RI, VT) and FEMA Region IX (CA, AZ, NV). Federal Department and Agencies will also participate from headquarters locations.

  • Cyber Workshops provided opportunities to strengthen relationships among cybersecurity and emergency management professionals.
  • Cyber Workshops allowed for meaningful discussions and information sharing on current cyber threats and vulnerabilities, case studies, and the roles of response officials at all levels of government.
  • For more information on cybersecurity visit

Cyber Ready Community Game

Cyber Ready Community Game

Building on the success of the Regional Cyber Workshops, FEMA has partnered with cybersecurity experts to develop an engaging strategy board game to explore the dynamics of cyber preparedness. Using gameboards and playing cards, players group within the game “community” to decide how to invest cyber credits to protect essential services. The community weathers multiple cyber incidents, shares information, and negotiates to prioritize cyber response resources needed to sustain the community’s critical functions. Through game play, players learn aspects of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cybersecurity framework.

We are currently piloting the cyber game and want your input! Please contact with the subject “Cyber Ready Community Game” for more information or if your community would like to host a pilot.

NLE Overview

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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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: 
04/10/2020 - 08:25