From every event, whether a planned exercise or an actual emergency, lessons can be learned to improve the outcome of the next response. Emergency managers should not camouflage preparedness, response, or communication failures. Instead, they should draw from the scenario experience to improve the overall emergency management program.
Immediately after an exercise or incident, it is critical to:
- Conduct post incident reviews
- Gather conclusions from interviews
- Identify necessary changes for program implementation
- Apply lessons to targeted area(s)
Actual recovery times can be evaluated and any obstacles that led to perpetuating the response should be mitigated. Emergency managers should incorporate lessons learned into response plans, highlight any additional training measures, and inject new responses procedures into exercise simulations.
The post-incident review is an evaluation of incident response used to identify and correct weaknesses, as well as determine strengths. Timing of a post-incident review is critical. An effective review requires that response and preparedness discussions take place while a disaster fresh in the minds of decision makers, responders, and the public. From this review, lessons learned can be identified and the task of preparedness and response improvement can begin.
The post-incident review process is intended to identify which response procedures, equipment, and techniques were effective or ineffective, and the reason(s) why. The question “How can our emergency response process be improved?” should be asked for each subject under the post-incident critique.
Post-incident reviews should include, but is not limited to:
- Name and typical duties of personnel being debriefed
- Date, time and whereabouts of employee during incident
- Specific actions performed during the incident
- Documentation of the positive aspects of the response and areas for improvements
- Recovery time and possible mitigation measures for improvement
- Potential lessons learned
- Necessary program and plan revisions
- Condition of equipment used, both prior to and after the incident
- Overall post-incident perception
Key areas of consideration that should be analyzed by a review team can include, but not limited to:
- Was the emergency detected promptly?
- How was it detected?
- Could it have been detected earlier? How?
- Are any instruments or procedures available to consider, which might aid in earlier detection of the incident?
- Were proper procedures followed in notifying government agencies?
- Were notifications prompt?
- Was management notified promptly?
- Were personnel notified promptly? If so, why, how and who? If not, why not?
- Were contact numbers up to date?
- Was the magnitude of the problem assessed correctly at the start?
- What means were used for this assessment?
- Are any guides or aids needed to assist emergency evaluation?
- What sources of information were available on winds, on water currents and other variables?
- Is our information adequate?
- What steps were taken to mobilize countermeasures to the emergency?
- What resources were used?
- Was mobilization prompt? Could the response time improve? How?
- What about mobilization of labor resources?
- Was it appropriate to mobilize company resources and was this promptly initiated?
- What other company resources are available and have they been identified and used adequately?
- Was there a Response Plan available for reference?
- Was it flexible enough to cope with unexpected events?
- Does the plan include clear understanding of local environmental, political or human sensitivities?
- What was the initial strategy for response to this emergency?
- Is this strategy defined in the Response Plan?
- How did the strategy evolve and change during the emergency and how were these changes implemented?
- What resources were mobilized?
- How were they mobilized?
- How did resource utilization change with time? Why?
- Were resources used effectively?
- What changes would have been useful?
- Do we have adequate knowledge of resource availability?
- Who was initially in charge of responding to the emergency?
- How did this change with time? Why?
- What changes would have been useful?
- Was there adequate monitoring of the incident?
- Were communications adequate?
- Was support from financial services adequate? Prompt?
- Should financial procedures be developed to handle such incidents?
Upon conclusion of the post-incident interviews, the following lesson learned concepts should be examined, mitigated if possible, and incorporated for an improved emergency management program:
- Unidentified potential risk or hazard: A hazard and vulnerability analysis should be performed, and processes and procedures should be developed and added to the plans.
- Management gaps and weaknesses: If the post incident reviews revealed weaknesses or gaps in the emergency management organization, the structure and/or roles should be modified and emergency plans revised.
- Ineffective policies and procedures: If the policies and procedures fail to address key issues during the incident, policies and procedures would need to be modified to address inadequacies.
- Lack of response proficiency: If response was faulty due to deficient training, exercising, or planning, these efforts should be amplified and personnel should be familiarized with these modifications
- Planning deviations: If participants successfully diverged from existing processes, procedures, or plans theses areas should be modified to reflect the reality of the performance.
Applying lessons learned to an emergency management program enables the ability to use experiences as a means to improve to better prepare for future emergency scenarios. By analyzing the past, executing enhancements, and reinforcing strengths companies and municipalities will be better prepared to not repeat history.
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