Debrief after an emergency

The after-action review (AAR) process is part of the emergency management cycle where agencies involved in the emergency attend a debrief.

Debriefs capture:

  • Operational opportunities for future events
  • Improve coordination and communication with stakeholders
  • Contribute to more effective operations and activities

Debrief process

For informal debriefs, complete a task summary report. A task summary report includes an analysis of surveys, exit interviews, and transcripts.

For larger or more formal debriefs, the individual task summary reports will be incorporated in the after-action review report. The after-action review report forms the basis for the improvement plan.

The improvement plan matrix lists actions the agency commits to completing that addresses an area for improvement. It’s usually made once the After-Action Report is approved. In smaller events, it may be released at the same time as the After-Action Review Report.

The tracking sheet can be used to log all the debrief comments, recommendations, and target completion dates on one sheet.

Facilitated debrief

The facilitated debrief session is a formal process and occurs once personnel and facilities have been demobilized. The goal of the debrief is to highlight successes and challenges encountered during an emergency.

The debrief should use:

  • An unbiased, experienced, and (preferably) external facilitator
  • A scribe to record the proceedings
  • A date and time that maximizes attendance and minimizes delay
  • A structured agenda that allows for both open and directed discussion

While these questions are a useful guide, each debrief will still have its own set of unique requirements:

  • Was there a specific plan in place for this type of hazard? Was it effective?
  • Was there specific training provided? Was it effective?
  • Have there been exercises held for the hazard? Were they effective?
  • Was an advanced planning unit established? Was it effective?
  • Were any urgent mitigation works undertaken? Were they effective?
  • Were any public information campaigns launched? Were they effective?

Additional operational topics for discussion can include:

  • Activation, notification process, alerts, and orders
  • Facilities and staffing
  • Situational awareness and public information
  • Planning and resource management

Debrief project manager and session report

Key findings and topics of discussion gathered from the debrief should be quickly transcribed into formal notes. This forms the debrief session report. Recommended actions should be summarized in a final list in the conclusion.

The review project manager gathers and analyzes all debrief session reports, task summary reports, exit surveys, interviews, and event documentation to determine post-event learning activities.

The debrief session report is distributed after receiving executive approval. The project manager:

  • Keeps an accurate distribution list
  • Records comments received
  • Distributes the debrief session report
  • Ensure all recipients of the debrief session report have clear instructions regarding further dissemination


Please contact a Regional Office if you have any questions.