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. This is captured in the NLE 2018 Conduct Executive Summary.
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 outages and cascading effects, with impacts to communications, transportation, water, and public works.
NLE 2018 National Level Objectives included:
- Pre-Landfall Protective Actions
- Sustained Response in Parallel with Recovery Planning
- Continuity in a Natural Disaster
- Power Outages and Critical Inter-Dependencies
The findings included in the NLE 2018 After-Action Report Executive Summary reflect exercise play and identify several opportunities for improvements to real-world operations for furture hurricane response efforts. The findings from NLE 2018 will contribute to the nation's efforts to meet the National Preparedness Goal - a secure and resilient nation - with the capabililities required across the whole community to prevent, protect, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.
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 private sectors 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.