The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) leads national-level exercises every two years. National Level Exercise (NLE) 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.
The exercise scenario involved a major hurricane that made landfall near Hampton Roads, Virginia, causing severe damage to residences, businesses, and critical infrastructure throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Fictional Hurricane Cora included power outags and cascading effects, with impacts to communications, transportation, water, and public works.
NLE 2018 National Level Objectives
- Pre-landfall Protective Actions
- Sustained Response in Parallel with Recovery Planning
- Continuity in a Natural Disaster
- Power Outages and Critical Interdependencies
Federally Supported, State Managed, and Locally Executed
- Federally Supported: Senior leaders from the White House and Cabinet Secretaries actively participated, in addition to more than 91 Federal departments and agencies.
- State Managed: The District of Columbia and all states in FEMA Region III - Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia - were critical exercise partners and participants.
- Locally Executed: Local participation enchanced the exercise experience as 67 local jurisdictions joined exercise play, tested emergency operations centers, and shared preparedness messages with their communities.
- Private Sector Engaged: More than 160 private sector organizations engaged with the FEMA National Business Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC) to discuss how the public and privatesectors can better coordinate during disasters.
Robust State and Local Participation
NLE 2018 included participation from all five states in FEMA Region III, 67 local jurisdications, and the District of Columbia. Several states hosted exercises to examine evacuation decision-making and pre-landfall protective actions, and governors hosted real-world media events to discuss and promote NLE 2018. FEMA's Region III Administrator hosted multiple calls with state emergency management directors and other state and local officials to coordinate unified Federal support to state and local partners. Additionally, Active Duty National Guard and Reserve components conducted functional and field training events to hone their processes and procedures to provide Defense Support of Civil Authorities. This exercise play provided an opportunity for military and civilian agencies at all levels to coordinate response activities.
NLE 2018 included participation from mayors, governors, and senior Federal officials, including the Secretary of Homeland Security and the FEMA Administrator. The Natonal Security Council Principals Committee conducted a pre-landfall tabletop exercise to coordinate Federal preparedness activities. Senior Federal, state, and local leadership actively participated in directing response activities, conducting synthetic media interviews, and coordinating during interagency and inter-governmental calls. As an outcome of this coordination, FEMA, state, local, and private sector partners implemented risk-based discussion and decision-making improvements.
Continuity in Natural Disasters
As part of NLE 2018, participating organizations at all levels of government tested their continuity plans to ensure they could fulfill essential functions and keep the government operating even if their headquarters buildings were damaged or unavailable. Private sector participants also used this opportunity to test their business continuity plans. Government organizations coordinated response and recovery activities from numerous alternate locations throughout the exercise. NLE 2018 provided the opportunity for departments and agencies to validate their ability to meet their essential functions, ensuring that all levels of government are prepared to meet the needs of the American people under any conditions.
Private Sector and Community Engagement
NLE 2018 included unprecedented levels of engagement across the private and nonprofit sectors, including numerous businesses and nongovernmental organizations spanning 14 sectors. During the exercise, the National Business Emergency Operations Center activated and coordinated with private sector infrastructure, and voluntary partners to establish response priorities and discuss resource sharing and requirements. These efforts identified numerous lessons to drive improvements in public-private information sharing and coordination for catastrophic incidents. In addition, FEMA hosted a live hurricane preparedness webinar for more than 1,000 registrants at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) conference.
Innovative Use of Technology
NLE 2018 included a suite of dynamic online tools and resources to visualize ground truth and scenario data. The tools displayed storm impacts, power outages, evacuation routes, and traffic data, enabling players to access realistic data to drive exercise play. The tools also included a situational awareness viewer, enabling players to determine power outages by county and census tract, identify key school, health, transportation, and other critical infrastructure within a selected area, obtain population data, and determine the Social Vulnerability Index information. Exercise controllers also created real-time GIS products to support player requests for new or expanded scenario effects.
NLE 2018 featured a comprehensive simulated media environment, including synthetic television, radio, print and social media, and organization websites. News reports, storm advisories, player interviews, GIS modeling, and other scenario elements were revealed to players through the synthetic media platform. The synthetic media platform included news and social media updates which changed based on player actions, interviews, and public affairs activities throughout.
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. 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 selected 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 serves as the capstone event of the two-year NEP cycle.
The National Level Exercise is congressionally mandated in the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, 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
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. (Read the press release)
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.