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After-Action Reviews: What Are They And Why Are They So Important?

After-Action Reviews can be an overlooked step in the emergency management process, and yet they are crucial to the emergency management cycle. So, what exactly is an after-action review, and why is it important?  

An After-Action Review involves identifying the steps taken in response to an emergency, and involves analyzing and evaluating these steps to determine how effectively the emergency was managed. The emergency plans and processes that were in place prior to the emergency occurring are referred to throughout the review, with the steps in the plans compared to the steps that were actually taken. Unlike a general debrief, an After-Action Review is more structured and formal in nature and will generally be facilitated by an emergency management specialist. The Review explores the following four key considerations:


1. What was supposed to happen?

The emergency plans that were already in place detail a series of steps and processes that are to be followed in the event of an emergency. These steps are based off prior risk analyses and feedback taken from past emergencies. These plans will detail what steps should have been taken during an emergency.


2. What actually happened?

Despite having emergency plans in place, there is no guarantee that these processes will always be followed by personnel in the event of an emergency. During a Review, a detailed recollection of all actions made by each person involved is discussed, allowing a picture to be painted of how the emergency unfolded, and how each person responded to it, and if they performed their respective duties and managed their delegated responsibilities.


3. What went well and why?

Highlighting the steps taken during an emergency response that helped personnel to effectively manage the emergency can indicate that they were beneficial and should be implemented in future emergencies. On the other hand, steps taken that were not necessarily in the plan, but were taken anyway and were proven to be useful and offered an advantage when managing the emergency, can be brought up and bookmarked for use in future emergency plans.


4. What can be improved and how? 

Where things go wrong and are detrimental to effectively managing an emergency, it is important that a plan is amended to prevent future missteps. Processes that were either difficult to understand, or difficult to implement in practice, are highlighted and either scrapped if necessary, or modified to improve the plan’s efficiency. This aims to streamline processes and improve responses to any future emergencies.  


As beneficial as adequate preparation and having emergency management plans in place can be, having to manage a real-life emergency is the ultimate way to see how effective these preparation tools are. How well a team responds to an emergency can indicate whether or not they have received adequate training. How closely a plan was followed can indicate whether or not the plan was clear and easy to understand, and if it covered all the necessary steps that needed to be taken. Real-life emergencies are the ultimate learning curve, and can highlight the benefits of having a plan, as well as the drawbacks of having either poorly prepared plans, or no plans at all. 

Overall, an After-Action Review aims to make an existing emergency management plan as effective as possible. Analyzing your response after an emergency has occurred, can give your organization a true indicator of how prepared your organization really is to handle an emergency. Harnessing feedback from these real-life experiences gives your organization the ability to improve and refine its emergency management plans, and ensure that you are prepared for anything. 

If your organization needs emergency management specialists to provide After-Action Review services, contact us at Resilient Services today.

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