While I used to be smack in the middle of these sorts of exercises and drills, I am now on the way way outer edges of the periphery (which I am certainly not complaining about...the amount of work that goes into the planning of such a big event is overwhelming).
What everyone, no matter where you live, can take away from this exercise...
- Ask your local emergency management office (generally city, county, and state offices) when your next city/county/state-wide disaster exercise will be happening then sign up to participate as a volunteer. This is a great way to spend a day, you are helping people get the training they need, and you will probably learn quite a bit too.
- If you already work in a critical responder field (medical, law enforcement, military, etc) then take the lead in participating in such a drill or exercise for your agency. Again, the value is in the learning, from pre-planning stages through the after-action report.
- If you want to become more involved in disaster planning/drills/exercises, consider volunteering with programs that are most likely to be a part of these events such as HAM radio (ARES/RACES), EMS (volunteer EMT or first responder), Search and Rescue, CERT, EOC volunteer, etc.
- You don't need to participate in full-scale, state-wide functional exercises to prepare yourself and your family for a disaster. Home fire drills, home lock-down drills, practicing your emergency communication plan, etc. are similar is process but on a much smaller scale. More info here.
- When you learn of a disaster drill or exercise that was held in your area, give them a bit of time then search for the after action report. Many of these reports present good "lessons learned" which you can use in your own disaster planning. Examples here, here, and here.