Emergency management after action reporting

Richard J. Evans
Public Works Director, Retired
City and County of San Francisco, California

After action reports-what are they? A new (old) tool not often used by public works people, but one that is used by other first responders (yes, we are first responders also) with great success. An after action report discusses what happened, where, when, and with what result. It discusses how the event was responded to, equipment and personnel involved, any special efforts needed to assist the response, cost, and may make notice of missed opportunities or mitigation measures taken. Properly completed, the report can be valuable learning tool.

A water main breaks, a sewer collapses, traffic signals fail to operate; these are just a few of the events that public works professionals respond to daily without second thought. These events, while emergency in nature, do not take on the same significance as do natural disasters-but they should. Our aging infrastructure has greatly contributed to the demands on our response capabilities and has stretched us thinner than ever. Yet, we do respond time after time without thinking much about it.

Natural and man-made disasters, while not as commonplace, also demand that we respond. However, events do not need to be catastrophic or worldwide. The response to a single building or street collapse is big enough to warrant an after action report. You will find that the value of the information collected and the lessons learned will more than offset the work of preparing the report. As our infrastructure ages and our population grows, more and more demands are going to be made on our ability to respond. Therefore, we need to be able to respond smarter, whatever the emergency. We need to make the best use of our resources and get the most out of any outside financial assistance that we can. This is necessary for the total recovery of our communities.

Police and fire departments and utility companies routinely complete after action reports for a variety of reasons, the most important concerning what can be learned from the response and how it may be improved upon. There are many other items that may be included in an after action report that could have a direct bearing on how you respond to situations in the future.

After action reports should include a number of items. These include:

* A statement of what happened, where, and when.
* Identify Incident Command.
* Identify resources used, both public and private. This includes personnel, equipment, materials, and supplies.
* Identify losses: injuries/fatalities, economic, and services.
* Provide a summary of the cost of the response. Be able to justify costs.
* Identify any contracts that might have been entered into.
* Identify oversights, over response, and possible improvements.
* Identify lessons learned.
* Identify opportunities for mitigation activities and plans to implement.

After action reports need to be completed immediately after an event. Any delay in preparing the report will result in a dilution of the information available and significantly reduce the value of the activity. A review of the above shows that much material can be covered. It should be done objectively, no blame should be assigned, and people should be recognized for their roles in assisting the response. It may be useful for a professional facilitator to assist you in the preparation of your report, especially if the response was complicated or until you are experienced in doing so yourself. You may also want to involve your agency's legal council so that liability issues are properly addressed.

After action reports should help justify your actions and support your claims for financial assistance. They should serve as a useful training tool for your employees. They will provide a basis for revising your emergency management plan. Make sure that your Emergency Manager is aware of any changes you make to your response plan. Also make sure that you include the changes in your future drills.

If you have questions concerning after action reports, feel free to contact Ron Brohammer, APWA Professional Development Program Manager, at 816-472-6100 or rbrohammer@apwa.net; Richard Evans at 925-933-0920 or kidsnave@earthlink.net; or access the infoNOW Community "Emergency Preparedness" at www.apwa.net.