After Action Review Process for Emergencies

The after action review process is a critical part of the iterative cycle of emergency management and serves to provide a quality improvement process relating to emergency management activities. The process also serves to recognize the efforts of those involved in the event while avoiding the placement of blame on individuals or organisations.

Debriefs are an excellent way to collect current and relevant information and to capture operational opportunities for future events. Debriefs help improve coordination and communication with all stakeholders and contribute to more effective emergency management operations and activities.

Facilitated Debrief

The facilitated debrief session is part of a formal debrief process and occurs after the event is over and personnel and facilities have been demobilized. Common elements of an effective debriefing include:

  • The use of an unbiased, experienced, and (preferably) external facilitator
  • The use of a scribe to record the proceedings
  • The use of a convenient and suitable facility to accommodate participants (Often the emergency operations facility is not large enough to accommodate all the personnel who attended during the course of the event)
  • A date and time for the debriefing that maximizes participant attendance while ensuring that the delay between the debrief session and  the emergency event is minimized
  • A structured agenda that allows for open as well as directed discussion. The duration of the debrief session should be commensurate with the number of participants as well as the scope, scale and complexity of the emergency event.

Regardless of the type of debrief process used, the goal of any debrief is to highlight the successes and challenges encountered in managing an emergency. This includes answering the following questions (this list serves only as a guide as each debrief will have its own requirements):

  • Were the preparedness objectives met?
  • Was there a specific plan in place for this type of hazard and was it effective?
  • Was there specific training provided, based on a plan and other preparedness measure and was it effective?
  • Have there been exercises held based on the hazard represented by the event and were they effective?
  • Were the readiness objectives met?
  • Was an advanced planning unit established and was it effective?
  • Were any urgent mitigation works undertaken and were they effective?
  • Were there any public information campaigns launched and were they effective?
  • Were the response objectives met?
  • What were the successes?
  • What were the challenges?
  • How can we improve?

Additional operational themes or topics for discussion during the debrief can include:

  • Activation and Notification Process
  • Organizational Structure (decision making, span of control, support)
  • Facility (purpose, layout, space, equipment, location)
  • Staffing (capacity, contractors, other LG support staff, training, experience)
  • Situational Awareness & Info Sharing (briefings, coordination calls, status boards, situation reports, documentation, shift transition, mapping)
  • Public Info (media, news bulletins, website, social media)
  • Planning (Incident objectives, action plan, advanced planning)
  • Alerts & Orders (process, planning, declarations, evacuations, resources, supporting agencies, mapping, notifications, re-entry)
  • Resource Management (Requests, approval process, deployment, tracking, payment, donation mgmt.)

Dealing with the Output

The facilitator must ensure that the material gathered from the debrief are transcribed into formal notes as soon as possible. The comments can then be grouped into the main topics that were raised. Recommendations from each main topic should be repeated in a final list in the conclusion. This forms the debrief session report.

The debrief session report is then handed over to the after action review project manager who is  responsible for gathering  and analyzing all the debrief session reports, task summary reports, exit surveys and interviews as well as event documentation in order to determine the actions and activities required for post-event organizational learning.

The project manager will distribute the debrief session report as appropriate after executive approval has been received. Distribution may include additional stakeholders, or in the case of a multi-agency debrief, external organizations. In all cases, the project manager must:

  • Keep an accurate distribution list
  • Maintain a file over any comments received
  • Ensure distribution of the debrief session report to all participants
  • Ensure all recipients of the debrief session report have clear instructions regarding further dissemination

Debrief Process Deliverables

The following suggested templates can be used to help document the after action review process:

A task summary report can be used to capture the analysis of event documentation including exit surveys, exit interviews, and hotwash transcripts.

For larger or more formal debriefs, the individual task summary reports will be incorporated in the after action review report. Copies of each task summary report must be made available to the debrief project manager and to any contractor retained to complete the debrief process. The Debrief Session Report will be used to capture the discussion and key findings from the facilitated debrief. It will be rolled up into the After Action Review Report and will form the basis for the Improvement Plan.

The Improvement Plan represents the actions the agency commits to completing in order to either perpetuate a positive finding or address an area for improvement. Most often, the Improvement Plan is created by internal staff once the After Action Report has been approved; however, in smaller events, the Improvement Plan may be attached to and released at the same time as the After Action Review Report.

The After Action Review and Improvement Plan Tracking sheet can be used to log all of the debrief comments, recommendations and target completion dates on one sheet.