Five Ways for Utilities to Participate in National Level Exercise 2011; March 22 Deadline to Sign Up

The WaterISAC has shared information about how drinking water and wastewater utilities can participate in the May 16-20 National Level Exercise (NLE 11) to assess recovery capabilities from a significant, multistate earthquake event.  Please read below for details on how your utilities may participate in this event:

On March 10, FEMA invited water and wastewater utilities to participate in [NLE 11 in] one of five ways, ranging from full engagement to use of a self-directed tabletop exercise. All options allow for virtual engagement.  Utilities that wish to participate as full planners/players must register with exercise planners by March 22; registration deadlines have not been set for the other participation options.

NLE 11 has been developed to prepare and coordinate a multiple-jurisdictional response to a catastrophic incident. This multi-state exercise will be testing a coordinated response to two earthquakes in the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) over a 72-hour window.

The NMSZ crosses five state lines and cuts across the Mississippi River in three places and the Ohio River in two places. The highest earthquake risk in the U.S. outside the West Coast is along the New Madrid Fault and could cause significant damage to infrastructure across a dozen states. Eight states in the region – Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Tennessee – will participate at different levels in NLE 11. Utilities outside the region can participate virtually.

WaterISAC is involved in planning and will play in the exercise. In coordination with several WaterISAC Pro subscribers and the Water Sector Coordinating Council, WaterISAC has provided a Ground Truth Damage Assessment to FEMA for incorporation into the exercise.

Below is a summary of the five options offered by FEMA for water and wastewater utilities:

1. Full Engagement – Planner and Player: This option is recommended for utilities in the New Madrid Seismic Zone who can commit time and staff for the duration of the exercise. Utility staff will work with federal, state and local government partners to develop their own objectives to be tested during the exercise. Players in the utility will then participate live during the exercise, by receiving “injects,” or personalized scenario updates, from exercise controllers. Players will respond accordingly in a realistic or virtual manner.

2. Full Engagement – Simcell: Utilities who do not have the time or resources to participate fully, and/or have earthquake expertise, may wish to serve as subject-matter experts with the exercise Simulation Cell (Simcell), supporting exercise planners and controllers to help make the exercise as realistic as possible. These volunteers will serve as substitutes for utilities unable to participate by answering questions and responding to Requests for Information (RFIs) from exercise players and controllers. Simcell participants can engage in-person or virtually. Volunteers may benefit by using the experience to inform their own disaster response plans.

3. Leadership Discussion Testbed: Participants who select this option would engage in discussions during the exercise with exercise controllers. By responding to pre-defined questions, utilities will have an opportunity to test their own internal response and recovery procedures, while also providing useful feedback to support exercise controllers and influence government decisions in the event of an actual disaster. Utilities with a high degree of disaster preparedness, response and recovery expertise may find this option valuable.

4. Virtual Engagement: This option allows utilities to observe the exercise in real time and provide comments or suggest injects. Participants will not be asked for information by exercise participants and controllers, but may choose to provide input.

5. Self Directed – Downloadable Tabletop Exercise (TTX): This is the only option that does not require participation during the defined dates and times of NLE 11. Utilities that are unable to participate in NLE 11 but that wish to exercise their earthquake response and recovery plans and procedures may elect to download a tabletop exercise with a fictional scenario similar to the earthquake and questions to consider. This option does not require interaction with exercise controllers.

Please see the attached Private Sector Participant Guide for a detailed explanation of the different participation options, exercise information, and a registration form.

DHS has set a registration deadline of March 22 for the Full Engagement – Planner and Player option, and registration deadlines for the other participation options are forthcoming. WaterISAC encourages all who wish to participate in any of the five options to register as soon as possible.

Questions about NLE 11 and participation may be directed to DHS exercise planners or to Melinda Glazer, WaterISAC’s Manager of Security Policy,


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