MCC Expo Quick Take: Planning First Responder Incident Preparedness and Recovery Training

Philip D. White, master fire service instructor, addressed planning effective first responder incident preparedness and recovery training sessions at the recent California Mobile Command Center Expo.


Identifying and understanding different types of training aids benefits quality learning in the active public safety education environment. The goal to enhance learning toward incident preparedness and recovery.

Among the half dozen or so classes presented at this year’s 11th annual California Mobile Command Center Expo held last April in San Francisco, California, was a presentation by Philip D. White, a veteran training and exercise planner, and a California State Fire Marshall’s Office master fire service instructor. He demonstrated using simple training aids to stimulate interaction with his audience during different types of training activities.

4 Key Takeaways on Public Safety Training:

#1 Begin with Thoughtful Planning

White began by reviewing the reasons why ongoing training is such an important component of the public safety workplace, and why careful planning of training events is vital part of achieving a successful outcome. Both preparedness and recovery will be best achieved with careful planning and execution of training.

He described four primary elements that prompt the need for continuous training in our profession:

  • Identify areas of strengths and those in need of improvement.
  • Validate the investment of previous training and equipment.
  • Improve intra- and interagency coordination and cooperation among allied agencies.
  • Test the applicability of plans, procedures and policies.

To accommodate effective learning during exercises and classroom training sessions, the use of teaching aids or props are particularly constructive, as they:

  • Enhance participant understanding
  • Increase interest in a lecture, demonstration or exercise activity
  • Clarify, prove or emphasize a key point or performance
  • Enhance remembrance of what was taught
  • Augment an exercise’s realism
  • Gain and maintain the participant’s attention
  • Illustrate a sequence of events or steps in a process or activity
  • Save time

#2 Consider Instruction and Exercise Models

There are different kinds of instruction and exercises.

White described using a progressive approach to planning these kinds of trainings, and identified two essential types of training activities: discussion-based training (classroom setting), and operations-based exercise (demonstration or field-based).

These instruction models progress from simple to more complex:


  • Seminars/Lecture
  • Workshops/Facilitated Discussion
  • Tabletops
  • Games


  • Drills
  • Functional Exercises
  • Full-Scale, Integrated Exercise

#3 Be Mindful of Agency Requirements & Needs

Different needs, environment, opportunities and accreditation requirements dictate which of these instruction models should or can be used. White identified four essential situations that would require the provision of training in the public safety environment:

  • Current or anticipated threats and hazards that prompt the need for additional training, such as new technologies, specific crimes, weather-related hazards, etc.
  • Areas for improvement or corrective action, prompted by handling of real-world or exercise analysis
  • External source requirements such as industry reports, state of national preparedness reports and Homeland Security strategies
  • Necessary accreditation standards/requirements like needed certification standards, those required by grants, OSHA regulations, etc.

#4 Define Training Goals During Planning

While planning your training presentation or event, determine the outcome you desire from that training:

  • Cognitive – acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses
  • Psychomotor – learning a skill or coordinated activity through hands-on or physical action
  • Critical Thinking – understanding clearly and rationally the logical connection between ideas or the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking

Based on the type of outcome desired and the type of discussion-based training or simulated exercise selected, White examined seven appropriate teaching aids, or props, to focus on during that training:

  • Hands-on exercises that simulate the “real thing” – active shooter, primary search techniques during house fire drill and paramedic intubation skills
  • Manikins – person-down evaluation, CPR/Heimlich, hazmat drill and simulated rescue
  • Moulage – simulate injuries, enhance realism and augment patient assessment
  • ICS village – whether via tabletop diorama or a real training village or location, simulate in scale or in reality with practice sessions in incident command and operational tactics on any number of emergency situations
  • Movies/videos – in a lecture session, use of visual media breaks up the talking head in front of the class and allow situations to be illustrated by simulated or real world visuals
  • Immersive environments – an interactive video can enhance a lecture by allowing the trainee to participant in hands-on training in a virtual reality setting controlled by the instructor
  • Games – serious games provide opportunities for engagement and innovative use of hands-on interaction within a lecture environment.

Create a problematic situation, assign roles to the students relative to their job, and have them solve the problem from their chairs, or split into teams. Have fun, but keep it within an atmosphere of seriousness, White suggested.

Randall D. Larson retired after 20 years in public safety communications, serving as a shift supervisor, trainer and field communications supervisor for the San Jose (California) Fire Department. Larson was also the editor of 9-1-1 Magazine from 1995 to 2009 and its online version from 2009 to 2018. He currently resides among the northern California Redwoods writing in a number of fields of interest.

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