National Exercise Program Fast Facts

A US Secret Service K-9 team works along the second, temporary fence on the north side of the White House March 18, 2015, in Washington.

(CNN)Here's a look at what you need to know about the National Exercise Program, the US system for emergency preparation drills. These exercises are mandated by Congress to test and strengthen federal, state, and local government ability to respond to potential catastrophic events.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Exercise Division (NED) oversees the National Exercise Program (NEP).
The first series of drills were called TOPOFF, which ran from 2000 to 2009.
The second series was called National Level Exercises (NLE), and ran from 2009 to 2012.
    The National Exercise Program began Capstone Exercises in 2012.
    TOPOFF Operations:
    TOPOFF - is short for TOP OFFICIALS. Governors, mayors, city managers, top federal and state officials, and others play active roles.
    Sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security Office for State and Local Government Coordination.
    Designed to involve all levels of government as well as emergency service responders including police, fire, public health workers and others.
    States volunteer to participate in TOPOFF; two are chosen for each cycle.
    TOPOFF 1:
    May 20, 2000 - The first TOPOFF drill is mandated by Congress in 1998. It lasts ten days and cost $3.5 million.
    The exercise features a bioterrorism attack in Denver, a chemical warfare attack in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and other activities in Washington.
    In New Hampshire, a mix of garlic and Gatorade is substituted for a bomb armed with mustard gas.
    Some lessons learned include: quick medical supplies depletion, hospitals filling to maximum capacity quickly, communication breakdowns (telephone lines), insufficient manpower, and poor decision-making skills.
    State officials say the drill taught them that rescue personnel need better training and protective gear.
    TOPOFF 2:
    May 12-16, 2003 - Takes place in Chicago and Seattle.
    TOPOFF 2 is a "five-day, full-scale exercise and simulation of how the Nation would respond in the event of a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attack."
    TOPOFF 2 is the first large-scale counter-terrorism exercise since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
    Created by the Department of Homeland Security, the weeklong set of drills cost an estimated $16 million.
    More than 8,500 people from 100 federal, state, and local agencies, as well as the American Red Cross and Canadian government, are involved.
    The Seattle event is a dirty bomb, while the Chicago event is the release of a deadly biological agent.
    TOPOFF 3:
    April 4-8, 2005 - Takes place in Connecticut and New Jersey. Approximately 10,000 participants from 27 federal agencies, state, county, and local officials and more than 150 private sector and non-government organizations take part. In total, over 275 government and private organizations participate. Interrelated events take place in Canada (TRIPLE PLAY) and Great Britain (ATLANTIC BLUE).
    The Connecticut event simulates a chemical weapons attack in New London; the New Jersey event simulates a vehicle-launched bioterror attack.
    TOPOFF 3 carries a budget of approximately $16 million.
    The event is based on a scenario in which terrorists detonate a simulated "dirty bomb" in Guam, with similar, coordinated attacks later taking place in Phoenix and Portland, Oregon.
    TOPOFF 4 involves more than 15,000 federal, state, territorial, and local participants. Of that number, approximately 4,500 are involved in the activities in Oregon.
    This is the first TOPOFF event to include the participation of a US territory.
    Dirty bombs, formally known as Radiological Dispersal Devices, are conventional explosives that release radioactive material upon explosion.
    National Level Exercises
    2009 - It is announced that TOPOFF exercises will continue under a new name, Tier 1 National Level Exercise (NLE). These are conducted annually in accordance with the National Exercise Program (NEP). The exercises are still designed to provide all levels of government an opportunity to prepare for crises ranging from terrorism to natural disasters.
    National Level Exercise 2009 (NLE 09):
    July 27-31, 2009 - Takes place at federal headquarters facilities in Washington, and in federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector facilities in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and California. Additionally, Australia, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom participate.
    The NLE 09 scenario begins in the aftermath of a national terrorist event outside of the United States, and the exercise centers on preventing efforts by the terrorists to enter the United States and carry out additional attacks.
    The exercise focuses exclusively on terrorism prevention and protection, as opposed to incident response and recovery.
    National Level Exercise 2010 (NLE 10):
    May 17-18, 2010 - NLE 2010 engages federal, state and local partners in a series of events to demonstrate and assess federal emergency preparedness capabilities pertaining to a simulated terrorist attack involving an improvised nuclear device. As part of NLE 2010, all federal agencies within the NCR participate in Eagle Horizon 2010, an exercise that requires federal departments and agencies to demonstrate their capability to perform mission essential functions in the event of a major emergency.
    National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE 11):
    May 2011 - Takes place at command posts, emergency operation centers and other locations, including federal facilities in Washington and federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector facilities in the eight-member states of t