Emergency Response and Crisis Management Technical Assistance CenterEmergency Responseand Crisis ManagementTA CenterU.S. Department of EducationLESSONS LEARNEDFrom School Crises and EmergenciesVol. 2, Issue 1, 2007After-Action Reports: Capturing Lessons Learned andIdentifying Areas for ImprovementEmergency management planning comprisesfour phases, and it is important to factor in all ofthem when developing comprehensive, all-hazardemergency management plans for schools andschool districts. Each of the phases—preventionmitigation,preparedness, response and recovery—is intricately linked to the others, and togetherthey form the foundation for efficient emergencyresponse and continuity of operations.Among the many key components of emergencymanagement planning are: establishing andinstitutionalizing an Incident Command System(ICS); providing continual training to staffmembers and volunteers; collaborating withcommunity partners to develop policies andprotocols; and conducting routine exercises anddrills. Exercises are invaluable tools for testingand reinforcing emergency management plans,identifying gaps in policies and procedures,and preparing staff for rapid, coordinated andeffective responses and recovery in an emergencyor a crisis. Equally as important as exercises arecorresponding after-action reports.After-Action ReportsAfter-action reports have a threefold purpose.They provide an opportunity for everyoneinvolved in an exercise to: 1) identify areas in thecurrent emergency management plan that are inneed of improvement; 2) make recommendationsto improve it; and 3) capture key lessons learned.The key components of after-action reports are:• Overview;• Goals and objectives;• Analysis of the outcomes;• Analysis of the capacity to perform critical tasks;• Summary; and• Recommendations (including specificimprovements for each community partner).In summer 2006, the Emergency Responseand Crisis Management (ERCM) TechnicalAssistance (TA) Center solicited and received atotal of 14 after-action reports from recipientsof the U.S. Department of Education’s ERCMGrant Program. The ERCM TA Center compiledthe lessons learned by the school districts aftereach district had conducted exercises. All 14after-action reports identified the following fivecomponents that should be included in emergencymanagement plans:1.2.Coordinate and test emergency responsecapacity in collaboration with communitypartners by activating the ICS;Assess response time and quality of response;The contents of this document are not prescriptive best practices for every school or school district, butrather suggestions to consider in a school or district’s emergency management efforts.
3.4.5.Examine the effectiveness of communicationsplans with community partners, school staff,students, parents and guardians and the public;Identify training needed by first responders,crisis response team members, school staff andstudents; andIncorporate lessons learned from after-actionreports into emergency management plans.The lessons learned by the school districts primarilyfocused on activities that take place during theprevention-mitigation and preparedness phases ofemergency management planning. The followingin-depth analyses of each of the areas identified byschool districts as a lesson learned will assist otherschools and school districts in strengthening theiremergency management plans and improving theeffectiveness of their responses during a crisis.Lesson 1: Coordinate and testemergency response capacity incollaboration with communitypartners by activating the ICS.Before an emergency management plan can bedeveloped and implemented, school and schooldistrict crisis response teams should be established.These teams consist of various professionals withexpertise in emergency management (e.g., police,fire and emergency medical services personnel)and include community partners (e.g., public andmental health professionals) and school-based staff(e.g., facilities and cafeteria managers, nurses,transportation managers, disability specialists,counselors, teachers and administrators). Districtsshould develop partner agreements or mutual-aidagreements with community partners to documentthe roles and responsibilities of each. Thesedocuments should also address coordination effortswith state and local emergency managementagencies, as well as how information will beDistricts should develop partneragreements or mutual-aid agreementswith community partners to documentthe roles and responsibilities of each.These documents should also addresscoordination efforts with state andlocal emergency managementagencies, as well as how informationwill be shared between allpartners, agencies and local firstresponders.shared between all partners, agencies and localfirst responders.The identification of roles and responsibilitiesin advance is critical. This is accomplished byestablishing the ICS, a standard crisis responsestructure that facilitates effective and efficientincident management. The ICS integrates acombination of facilities, equipment and standardsinto one management structure with five functionalareas—Command, Operations, Planning,Logistics, and Finance-Administration—formanaging all major incidents. The followingmust be included when establishing an ICS andcoordinating with community partners:• Define and review the duties of each ICSteam member, including first responders andcommunity partners;• Build redundancy into the ICS structure toallow for absent or missing team members;• Engage first responders and other partners indeveloping emergency management plans;• Include partners from every emergencymanagement agency in planning, implementingand evaluating exercises;
• Ensure that all first responders know theprocedures outlined in school and school districtemergency management plans, as well as thelayouts of all school buildings and campuses;• Communicate the location of staging areas(e.g., ICS, first aid, public informationcenter, media relations and parent-studentreunification) to all school administrators andcommunity partners;• Ensure that staging areas have sufficientcommunications capabilities, includinginteroperable and portable two-way radiosfor school staff to communicate with the ICScommander;• Have key members of the ICS wear vests toidentify their agency affiliation and role; and• Develop an incident action plan (i.e., an oralor written plan containing objectives reflectingthe overall incident strategy and specificactions to take) as part of the ICS response atthe staging area during an emergency.Lesson 2: Assess response time andquality of response.Documenting what occurs during exercises andactual emergencies helps to improve responsetimes and the quality of the responses. Animproved response time is a quantifiable decreasein the amount of time it takes to respond to acrisis when compared to the initial response timefor a similar crisis. Improvements in quality ofresponse are measured through an after-actionreport that describes the exercise, cites successesand outlines recommendations for addressingshortcomings and implementing modifications.To improve response time and quality ofresponse, schools and school districts must:• Ensure that first responders and school staffmembers have the necessary supplies andequipment for responding to multiple hazards;• Provide evacuees with more detailed directions;• Obtain a detailed description of any suspects,including physical features, the number ofsuspects, and when and where they were lastseen; and• Determine the procedures and equipmentneeded in the event of a power failure.Lesson 3: Examine the effectivenessof communications plans withcommunity partners, school staff,students, parents and guardians andthe public.The timely acquisition and analysis of informationbefore, during and after an exercise or incident isa critical component of emergency management.During an incident, effective communicationamong crisis response team members, communitypartners, school and school district personnel,students, parents and guardians and the mediais crucial. Open lines of communication shouldCommunicate the locationof staging areas (e.g., ICS,first aid, public informationcenter, media relations andparent-student reunification) to allschool administrators and communitypartners. Ensure that staging areashave sufficient communicationscapabilities, including interoperableand portable two-way radios forschool staff to communicate with theICS commander.
e established well in advance by developingsolid communications plans and establishingprotocols. School districts should also developprocedures with community partners to coordinatethe accurate and timely release of informationto the public and designate a Public InformationOfficer (PIO) to handle the work. To improve theeffectiveness of communications plans and thedissemination of information, schools and schooldistricts should:• Evaluate and upgrade communicationsequipment to ensure that they are properlyworking (e.g., landlines, cellular telephones,faxes, computers, two-way radios, etc.);• Ensure that there is an adequate supply offresh batteries and that all battery-poweredequipment such as laptop computers andcellular telephones is fully charged in case of apower outage.• Provide equipment that is interoperable withthat of local first responders and schoolbuilding personnel;• Use pagers, alert systems or other technologyto enable instant communication between thesuperintendent and all the schools in his or herdistrict;• Look for “dead spots” (i.e., areas where asignal cannot be received by communicationsequipment such as cellular telephones) inschool buildings and make them known toschool staff, first responders and the crisisresponse team;• Predesignate periodic and consistent check-insfor community partners to consult with the ICSduring an emergency event or exercise;• Designate someone other than the schoolprincipal or incident commander tocommunicate with 911 operators;All school staff members must betrained in crisis response procedures.Training, combined with emergencyexercises, is an invaluable tool forpreparing staff, testing emergencymanagement capabilities andreinforcing key concepts in schooland schools districts’ emergencymanagement plans.• Designate one or two alternates to alsocommunicate with 911 operators and providetraining for those individuals;• Create documentation forms to trackinformation—including calls received, callsmade and rumors—during an exercise oremergency;• Designate a PIO to be responsible for thedissemination of information to the public;• Determine a staging area for the media andfirst responders, and include the area inemergency management plans;• Keep students and staff informed during a drillor emergency; and• Increase public awareness aboutevacuation plans before, during and after acommunitywide drill.Lesson 4: Identify training needed byfirst responders, crisis response teammembers, school staff and students.All school staff members must be trained in crisisresponse procedures. Training, combined withemergency exercises, is an invaluable tool for
preparing staff, testing emergency managementcapabilities and reinforcing key concepts in schooland schools districts’ emergency managementplans. All training sessions should be conductedannually with community partners to capitalizeon responders’ expertise and ensure consistentlearning. Additional training should be provided toschool personnel and crisis response team leadersbased on their roles in the ICS. The followingtraining guidelines should be implemented inemergency management plans:• Train all district- and school-based staff andfirst responders in the use of the NationalIncident Management System (NIMS) andthe ICS, and include them in planning andcoordinating exercises;• Continue to collaborate with fire and lawenforcement personnel to ensure that theagencies and the schools they serviceknow what to expect during an exercise oremergency; and• Train school receptionists and other front deskstaff on how to respond to threats and alert firstresponders.Lesson 5: Incorporate lessonslearned from after-action reports intoemergency management plans.An important part of the preparedness andresponse phases of emergency managementplanning is the review of exercises throughafter-action reports and other evaluations. Theseactivities are highly effective in identifyingstrengths and areas in need of improvement so thatschool and school district emergency managementplans can be regularly updated. Examplesof lessons learned that could be incorporatedinto emergency management plans include thefollowing actions:• Clarify procedures for creating andimplementing a school’s ICS;• Develop procedures for procuringsupplemental equipment, professional supportand other resources (e.g., food, water andtechnology) for use during and after anemergency;• Provide go-kits (i.e., a self-contained,portable stockpile of supplies) for classrooms,administrators, facilities personnel and schoolnurses;• Develop detailed school bus evacuation plansthat outline the bus staging area, the routesbuilding evacuees will take to get to thebuses, bus drivers’ responsibilities, evacuationroute hazards, and the procedures for placingstudents and staff with preexisting medicalconditions or disabilities first on the buses;• Assign someone to assist the district or schoolnurse with the first aid equipment and go-kitstaken on evacuation routes;Additional trainingshould be provided to schoolpersonnel and crisis responseteam leaders based on their rolesin the ICS. Train all district- andschool-based staff and first respondersin the use of the National IncidentManagement System (NIMS) and theICS, and include them in planning andcoordinating exercises.
• Supply medical personnel with equipment atthe evacuation site in case the nurse has toremain on-site (i.e., in the building or on thecampus);• Create a family reunification plan andcommunicate that plan to students, parents,guardians and the media;• Designate primary and alternate parent-studentreunification sites;• Develop plans for the supervision andaccountability of students at evacuation andreunification sites;• Plan activities for students at the parent-studentreunification site (e.g., provide books andgames); and• Send the after-action report, documentingneeds to be addressed, to the superintendentand other responsible partners (e.g., foodservices and facilities managers) in the schooldistrict so that the lessons learned can beincorporated into future emergency responsesand an updated version of the emergencymanagement plans.Send the after-action report,documenting needs to be addressed,to the superintendent and otherresponsible partners (e.g., food servicesand facilities managers) in the schooldistrict so that the lessons learnedcan be incorporated into futureemergency responses and anupdated version of the emergencymanagement plans.ConclusionAfter-action reports are an integral part of theemergency preparedness planning continuum andsupport effective crisis response. The debriefingsthat precede the reports help schools and schooldistricts analyze how school personnel and firstresponders function during an exercise or actualemergency. The lessons learned can be used toproactively develop and enhance emergencymanagement plans and procedures that will ensurethe safety of the entire school community.The Emergency Response and Crisis Management (ERCM) Technical Assistance (TA) Center was established inOctober 2004 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS). The centersupports schools and school districts in developing and implementing comprehensive emergency and crisis responseplans by providing technical assistance via trainings, publications and individualized responses to requests.Lessons Learned is a series of publications that are a brief recounting of actual school emergencies andcrises. School and student names have been changed to protect identities. Information for this publicationwas gathered through a series of interviews with school stakeholders involved in the actual incident. For additional informationon other emergency-related topics, visit the ERCM TA Center at http://www.ercm.org or call 1-888-991-3726. For informationabout the Emergency Response and Crisis Management grant program, contact Tara Hill (email@example.com), Michelle Sinkgraven(firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sara Strizzi (email@example.com).This publication was funded by the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education under contractnumber GS23F8062H with Caliber Associates, Inc. The contracting officer’s representative was Tara Hill. The content of thispublication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education, nor does the mention oftrade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government. This publication also containshyperlinks and URLs for information created and maintained by private organizations. This information is provided for thereader’s convenience. The U.S. Department of Education is not responsible for controlling or guaranteeing the accuracy,relevance, timeliness or completeness of this outside information. Further, the inclusion of information or a hyperlink or URL doesnot reflect the importance of the organization, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered.All hyperlinks and URLs were accessed on Jan. 5, 2007.