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What Should Your COVID-19 After Action Review Look Like

Emergency managers are well acquainted with the after action review, a qualitative evaluation of actions taken to respond to a given emergency. A staple of the recovery process, the after action review provides the best means of identifying best practices, gaps, and lessons learned, so as to respond better next time.

However, the COVID-19 crisis was a shock to the system. Normal processes were upended; plans turned out to be inadequate. How to do better next time? 

How to best approach the COVID-19 after action review

The content of the COVID-19 after action review will look different depending on the agency that undertakes it. But the form the review takes is fairly generic. The after action review typically begins with a summary of a given event, in this case, your COVID-19 emergency response.

Your summary can be organised chronologically or thematically. Given the duration of the crisis, though, you might want to break the summary into thematic sections.

A casual look at COVID-19 after action reviews out there suggests the following are likely themes around which your COVID-19 after action review might be organised and possible questions you might ask in it:

  • Telework policy. Did you have a policy beforehand? Did you provide the requisite resources for staff to work remotely?
  • Business continuity. How did you define your essential workforce before the crisis?
  • Pandemic-specific plan. Did you have one beforehand?
  • Personnel management and labour. Did you make changes to your HR policies? Should those policies be codified permanently? Did prior labour agreements cover safety during public health crises?
  • Return to work. Did you define what the process would look like ahead of time?

How to get content into your COVID-19 after action review?

For the above, end-to-end emergency management software will come handy, equipped as it is with capabilities to let you assess damage as well as log all activities, updates, and decisions – that’s half the battle. But for the rest, you’ll still have to consider how to get content into your COVID-19 after action review.

Our short reply, here, is it depends. Given the length and severity of the pandemic, it might even be worthwhile to commission a third-party facilitator to help with your COVID-19 after action review.

How would that work? The facilitator would likely get a sense of your pandemic response expectations before the COVID-19 crisis. They’d also query your team on what happened during the emergency response, drilling down on the specific processes and/or resources that supported each stage of the response.

After that, a typical after action review would lay out what went well during the operation and why.

So, why dwell on the positive when you want to do better next time? Well, after action reviews give agencies and organisation the ability and confidence to build upon demonstrated best practices so as to ensure that those practices continue to be integrated into future emergency responses.

How to prepare for the COVID-19 after action review process

Conversely, after action reviews aren’t meant to name and shame. In this regard, your COVID-19 after action review should be no different. That means interviews should be conducted and the final document written in a spirit of learning what happened, to improve for next time.

Of course, preparing your organisation for the next pandemic will entail actually understanding what could have been improved during the COVID-19 emergency response. This, of course, makes the final element of your COVID-19 after action review the most important – listing out what could have been done better and providing actionable recommendations for handling a similar event in the future.

What do we mean by actionable? Well, to be actionable, recommendations must be robust, including cost estimates, implications, timelines, and potential prioritisations for the process going forward.

One recommendation likely to show up in your COVID-19 after action review is the need to bolster virtual processes, potentially by procuring virtual Emergency Operations Centre (vEOC) capabilities. What benefits could those capabilities bring in the COVID-19 era and beyond?


For more resources from Noggin, visit our Resources Center