Rural communities face barriers to disaster preparedness and considerable risk of disasters. Emergency preparedness among rural communities has improved with funding from federal programs and implementation of a National Incident Management System. The objective of this project was to design and implement disaster exercises to test decision making by rural response partners to improve regional planning, collaboration, and readiness. Six functional exercises were developed and conducted among three rural Nebraska (USA) regions by the Center for Preparedness Education (CPE) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (Omaha, Nebraska USA). A total of 83 command centers participated. Six functional exercises were designed to test regional response and command-level decision making, and each 3-hour exercise was followed by a 3-hour regional after action conference. Participant feedback, single agency debriefing feedback, and regional After Action Reports were analyzed. Functional exercises were able to test command-level decision making and operations at multiple agencies simultaneously with limited funding. Observations included emergency management jurisdiction barriers to utilization of unified command and establishment of joint information centers, limited utilization of documentation necessary for reimbursement, and the need to develop coordinated public messaging. Functional exercises are a key tool for testing command-level decision making and response at a higher level than what is typically achieved in tabletop or short, full-scale exercises. Functional exercises enable evaluation of command staff, identification of areas for improvement, and advancing regional collaboration among diverse response partners.
. Utilization of Functional Exercises to Build Regional Emergency Preparedness among Rural Health Organizations in the US. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2017;32(2):224–230.