Conducting a Hurricane Response Exercise


The objective of a hurricane simulation exercise is to test the ability of an organization and its partners to initiate disaster response and recovery activities. Disaster services volunteers from the Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross (CACARC), along with several partner organizations, conducted a full-scale hurricane response exercise. The exercise had volunteers throughout eight counties dealing with issues from conducting needs and damage assessments to managing long-term shelters, from setting up a mobile kitchen to establishing emergency aid stations. This practice offers details and resources for replicating a similar hurricane response exercise.


Preparing for hurricane response across agencies and counties takes planning, collaboration, and time, but is well worth the effort when viewed in the larger context of suffering relieved and lives saved.

Background: On May 21, 2005, 153 disaster services volunteers from the CACARC and several partner organizations conducted a four-hour full-scale "Hurricane Zack" response exercise that had volunteers throughout the CACARC's eight counties dealing with issues such as long-term sheltering, needs assessment, damage assessment, and deploying the mobile kitchen.

Participants: Besides the CACARC, participants included 2-1-1 Big Bend Inc. (telephone counseling and referral services), America's Second Harvest Food Bank, Big Bend Disaster Animal Response Team, Capital Area Citizen Corps, Capital Area District of the American Radio Emergency Services, Council of Neighborhood Associations, Florida Baptist Association, and the Leon County Volunteer Center.

Preparation: Situation manuals were provided for all participants including a manual for emergency aid stations, the emergency operations center (EOC), the food bank, the mobile kitchen, and shelters. These manuals provided instructions for participants to role-play possible scenarios in their respective topics. For example, the Food Bank Master Sequence of Events List consisted of the following directives:

Every 10-15 minutes, contact the CACARC's EOC with the following injects:

  1. Fax current inventory to the CACARC's EOC.

  2. The warehouse has lost electrical utilities. A generator is needed to power the reefer and freezer units. What can be done?

  3. A non-refrigerated truckload of fresh produce has arrived at the food bank. Does the CACARC want it?

  4. FRM Feeds called and offered 400 50-pound bags of dog food to be used by disaster victims. Does the CACARC want it?

  5. The CACARC is using our fleet of trucks to deliver food to emergency aid stations. Most gas stations are closed due to widespread utility outage and the trucks are almost empty. What can be done?

  6. The food bank has an extra pallet jack that can be sent over to the mobile kitchen location. Does the CACARC want it?

  7. There is a need for additional volunteers to help sort supplies arriving at the warehouse. What can be done?

  8. A vendor has called and offered 4,000 heater meals at a reduced cost. What can be done?

  9. There is a need to feed approximately 30 to 50 volunteers twice a day at the warehouse. What can be done?

  10. There has been an offer to donate five pallet loads of bug spray. Does the CACARC want it?

  11. Ten trailer loads of institutional food supplies will be delivered in 24 hours. The warehouse is full. What can be done?

See sample situation manuals: Master Sequence of Event List — EOC and Shelther Health Services Situation Manual.

  • In an effort to give the Damage Assessment Teams (which were dispatched into the field as part of the exercise) a realistic learning opportunity, neighborhood maps were prepared with various levels of damage identified. (See a sample neighborhood map.)

  • During the week leading up to the fictional arrival of Hurricane Zack, North Florida advisories from the National Hurricane Center were posted to the hurricane exercise website. Each of the postings contained important information on the location, wind speed, and movement of the hurricane. (See a sample National Hurricane Center posting.)

  • During the day of the disaster scenario, the Disaster Services Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) was set up to receive the 153 disaster services volunteers who participated in the four-hour exercise. (See a sample VRC Manual and VRC "Go Kit" Forms & Instructions.)

  • The CACARC's EOC was made ready for the Disaster Services Management Team. (See sample Standard Operating Procedures — EOC.)

  • In the CACARC's EOC, workstations were set up for Mass Care (Sheltering), Mass Care (Feeding), and Logistics. (See sample Emergency Support Function — Mass Care.)

  • The Damage Assessment workstation (located down the hall from the EOC) was also set up and stocked with damage assessment supplies. (See sample Standard Operating Procedures — Damage Assessment.)

  • The Communications Room (located in the EOC) had all the radios needed to stay in contact with shelters, emergency response personnel, and county EOCs.

The Exercise: The Hurricane Zack exercise was based on the premise that a Category 2 hurricane had just passed through Tallahassee.

  • An important part of the exercise was to examine the CACARC's ability to receive and process spontaneous volunteers through the Disaster Services VRC. To test this ability, Boy Scouts and their leaders from the Suwannee River Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America fulfilled the role of spontaneous volunteers.

  • To help set the stage for the exercise, shelters were posted "open" on the shelter tracking boards in the CACARC's EOC. Updated shelter information was posted throughout the day to the shelter tracking boards.

  • The emergency services director conducted a conference call with disaster services volunteers deployed throughout the CACARC's eight counties. This tested the CACARC's ability to conduct response activities throughout all eight counties.

  • Members of the Disaster Mental Health Services and Disaster Health Services Management Team worked out of the CACARC's EOC, counseling fictional victims both on the phone and in person.

  • The fictional location of Hurricane Zack was monitored throughout the day on computers at the EOC.

  • The Tallahassee Amateur Radio Society deployed their communications van to the CACARC's EOC to assist in controlling the radio activity.

  • Volunteers acting as exercise controllers radioed simulated shelter messages into the CACARC's communications  room. This not only tested the mass care (sheltering) team but the radio operators as well.

  • Communications coordinating animal issues came from Big Bend Disaster Animal Response Team, working out of the CACARC's EOC.

  • The public affairs officer had the role of making contact with the local media during the exercise. (See sample Emergency Support Function — Public Information.)

  • Supplies from the CACARC's logistics support trailer were used during the exercise.

Alternative Exercise: A convenient option to the full-scale practice described above is to hold a smaller-scale "tabletop" community disaster response exercise. See Hurricane Armando 2005: A Neighborhood Tabletop Exercise from the CACARC.


Disasters cannot be eliminated, but it is possible to determine the nature of potential hazards, identify vulnerable areas before one strikes, and take appropriate steps to reduce the severity of the hazard. Disaster mitigation efforts (e.g., performing hurricane simulation exercises) leave communities better protected and minimize damage when disaster does occur. They also identify the capabilities of an organization and its partners, allowing them to continue enhancing plans and procedures to meet the needs of residents following a disaster. A hurricane response exercise also provides leaders and residents an opportunity to learn the importance of working together when disaster strikes (CACARC, 2011).

For more information:

Website: Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross

Related Resources: 


Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. (2011). Hurricane Armando 2005: A neighborhood tabletop exercise. Retrieved from

Floyd, C. (2005, June 9). Re: American Red Cross Hurricane Zack exercise [Electronic mailing list message]. Retrieved from


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