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Emergency Preparedness—Moving from documentation to learning lessons

“Preparedness refers to actions that strengthen the capacity of government, citizens, and communities to respond to disasters.”
– Lessons Learned Information Sharing (, DHS

Is your organization taking full advantage of learning opportunities in order to reach higher levels of preparedness? Many organizations conduct Emergency Preparedness (EP) exercises and produce After Action Reports at the end of the event.  But with this approach too often lessons are merely documented, not truly learned. Embedding frequent “hot washes” throughout the EP exercises is a powerful way to increase learning. Building full cycles of After Action Reviews (AARs) into both the planning and execution of the EP strategies and processes that your organization is using can dramatically improve actual preparedness. 


The key question: Are the "Lessons Learned" actually learned?

The U.S. Army Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) proposes that a lesson is “learned” when:
            1.  It results in a change of behavior, and
            2.  It is validated—the change in behavior produces results predicted by the team’s thinking.

Signet helps EP organizations go from documenting lessons in After Action Reports to actually ensuring that lessons are truly learned, using the full set of tools that support learning-through-action in exercises and in actual emergency response situations.


Compare the two approaches to Lessons Learned

"Ground Hog Day"

(a common approach to learning from exercises)


Commitment to Improve

(follows Signet’s research into best learning practices)

Single "post mortem" review conducted at the end of a long event Hotwashes or AARs are embedded throughout the event so learning is fresh and relevant
Facilitator is inexperienced, has little preparation, and is not a peer of the team leader Trained facilitator contracts with leaders prior to AAR and helps gather relevant data
Unstructured format commonly produces a laundry list of things to fix Hotwashes, Before and After Action Reviews follow a clear yet simple discipline
Focus is on producing a written report – often written by someone not even at the AAR Focus is on actionable insights, team performance, and improving results
Action items require an approval process that can take six months or more Participants are accountable for taking action, and leaders play a key role in follow-through
One-time insights are accepted as “Lessons Learned” to be passed on to others Hypotheses are revisited, tested & adjusted based on changing conditions

Signet works with government agencies and other emergency preparedness organizations to ensure that lessons get learned. Specific services:

  • Design effective lessons learned processes into exercise and emergency response plans
  • Provide AAR facilitation for critical events
  • Design and deliver AAR training to planning and response teams
  • Please feel free to contact us for further information about how we can be of assistance, or for more information on how Action Review Cycles enhance the effectiveness of Emergency Preparedness efforts.


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