Conducting after-action reviews of the response to incidents and emergencies is a common preparedness activity and a key component of the National Preparedness System. Agencies at all levels of government routinely assess their responses to all types of threats and hazards, including hurricanes, wildfires, transportation accidents, civil unrest, and mass shootings. These assessments typically occur soon after an incident is over—or has moved to the recovery phase. Prolonged pandemics, such as the outbreak of COVID-19, pose a particular dilemma as agencies decide when to conduct an after-action review.

The answer is now. Many public health and emergency management agencies are conducting interim reviews of the response to COVID-19 to gather lessons learned that can be incorporated into plans and help improve the response to later stages of the pandemic, when cases may resurge or when vaccination operations are underway. Interim reviews can also provide a baseline against which the response can be re-evaluated later, after improvements have been implemented.

Many agencies are also adopting processes of continuous improvement rather than relying on the traditional post-event after-action review. By conducting periodic assessments—e.g., on a weekly or monthly basis—agencies can identify challenges early and take action to address them before they become systematic problems. Data can be collected through open surveys, periodic hot wash meetings and interviews and monitoring performance metrics and then analyzed on a rolling basis, with findings presented to decision makers and operators for action.

It is difficult to devote resources to after-action reviews while in the middle of a high-paced pandemic response; however, by identifying and addressing challenges early agencies can continuously learn from and improve their operations.

Monica Giovachino has been with CNA since 1994 and serves as a Managing Director in CNA's Safety and Security division. She is responsible for CNA's domestic preparedness portfolio, which includes projects and studies for the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, as well as local and state agencies and private sector organizations.