Photo Credit: Members of public agencies in a pre-exercise briefing with the Emergency Manager.

Introduction and Considerations by Michelle Medley-Daniel.

Most of us have participated in an elementary school fire drill or emergency bus evacuation. Public schools are required to hold drills, in part because actually enacting an evacuation plan can help surface issues or important considerations that would otherwise go unnoticed in the theoretical space of “the plan.” But while drills are worthwhile, they are no easy task to pull off particularly when scaled up to service a whole community.

Greg Strick of Santa Fe, NM recently shared his account of the evacuation drill conducted by the City of Santa Fe. While the findings are site specific, the resources and insights they came away with may be helpful to your community. Read on to learn more about what Santa Fe residents and officials learned by conducting an evacuation drill.

The City of Santa Fe Office of Emergency Management (OEM) conducted a drill to test the City’s reverse notification system and procedures for conducting an evacuation of a neighborhood. The primary objective of the exercise was to notify one hundred percent of homes within a designated evacuation area of an evacuation and establish an evacuation site within 90 minutes of the decision to evacuate.

The exercise was developed through input from a planning team composed of the Santa Fe Fire Department, Santa Fe Police Department, Santa Fe Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Santa Fe Regional Emergency Communications Center (RECC), and the Monte Sereno Fire Prevention Committee representatives.

This evacuation exercise was kicked off at a Monte Sereno neighborhood meeting on August 16, 2014. At that meeting the residents were given a handout and encouraged to put together their 25 most important personal and family documents as a part of their emergency preparation. This list was derived from an article originally published in the Wall Street Journal, which can be accessed here.

Major Strengths

The major strengths identified during this exercise, as noted in the City of Santa Fe OEM After-Action-Report, were as follows:

  • Redundant notification systems reached all “in-play” homes in the notification area.
  • Positive participation and engagement leading up to the drill by the Monte Sereno community
  • Common Operating Picture established and maintained by Incident Command
  • Maintenance of accountability for field personnel and evacuees.
Primary Areas for Improvement

Throughout the exercise, several opportunities for improvement in the City of Santa Fe’s ability to manage emergency response and recovery operations were identified, also noted in the OEM After-Action-Report. The primary areas for improvement, including recommendations, were as follows:

  • No uniform mechanism for identifying homes that have been contacted
  • Caller ID display from reverse notification system caused confusion
  • Long reverse notification voice message led to too many text messages

Overall, this exercise successfully addressed the goals and objectives identified by the exercise planning team. Future exercises will evaluate the efficacy of reverse notifications to a larger area with less notice for the RECC and response partners.

Monte Sereno residents getting a debriefing from the Emergency Manager of the City of Santa Fe following the exercise.

Monte Sereno residents debriefing with the Emergency Manager of the City of Santa Fe following the exercise.

Regarding the specifics of the exercise, the large majority of residents completed their registration with the RECC, the City and County’s reverse 911 system. Thirty-eight of 49 total homes confirmed they were RECC registered or 77.6 percent, and 46 of 49 homes confirmed and committed to register, 93.9 percent. All registered residents received pre-notification messages at about 2:55 pm on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 and then received the evacuation notifications on Saturday morning, September 13, 2014 at 9:00 am. Santa Fe Fire and Police Department personnel also did door-to-door notifications. Nineteen residents representing 12 homes, of 28 “in play” homes, participated in the evacuation exercise and showed up at the evacuation site, which was a 42. percent response rate.  These residents arrived at the evacuation site within 73 minutes, beating a goal of 90 minutes set by the OEM. A sampling of resident responses to the evacuee survey confirmed the benefit of the registration and preparation for the exercise, and resident comments on also spoke to the benefits.  The survey document and tabulated resident responses are contained in the City of Santa Fe OEM After-Action-Report. This report can be accessed at this link under “After-Action Reports from Previous Exercises.”

As a continuing effort in this Plan, 100 percent of current and incoming residents of Monte Sereno will be registered with the Santa Fe RECC in order to receive reverse-911 emergency notifications.


Every community has different needs and opportunities. Some cities and towns are equipped with the departments and personnel to carry out an evacuation drill like Santa Fe’s, in other places other approaches might be more appropriate. Regardless of your context, this post prompts questions about how prepared for evacuation your community is.

  • Does your community have an evacuation plan and reverse notification system? If so, are these actively updated?
  • Has your community ever hosted an evacuation drill to test your system? What would a successful drill look like in your community?

Share your experience and comments below.

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