As states begin to reopen and communities slowly return to normalcy, organizations, including mission-critical agencies, must evaluate their responses to the COVID-19 public-health crisis and leverage their experiences to prepare for future crises. Conducting an incident-response review, also called a hot wash, enables agencies to identify areas in which they performed well, as well as where their responses could use improvement. When conducted as part of an agency’s after-action reporting activities, this review can help build a better incident-response plan moving forward.
Reviewing Your Agency’s Response: What You Need to Know
Before beginning an incident-response review, it is important to understand why your agency is conducting the review. What are your goals? For many agencies, the primary goal is to identify areas for improvement within an existing incident-response or continuity-of-operations plan (COOP). For others, the goal may be to use the response as an example for developing new plans from the ground up. Setting a goal for the review of your agency’s response to an incident is a critical first step.
Once you’ve identified the purpose of your review, what will you discuss? There are a variety of operational and technological aspects to your incident response that will need to be considered and reviewed, including:
- Operations: Were you able to maintain operations within your building or did you have to mobilize staff to work remotely?
- Technology: Did your existing technology hold up to the challenges presented during the crisis? Were there limitations placed on technology due to moving to remote operations?
- Policies: Were the policies you had in place enough for responding to this incident? If new policies were implemented, how did they affect staff and operations?
- Facility: Was your building able to withstand the challenges presented by the incident? If not, what other facility options were available to your agency?
- Personnel: How did this incident affect personnel – were you able to maintain necessary staffing levels to handle call volume? What steps do you need to take to keep staff members safe in the future?
Focus your review of each aspect on four primary questions:
- What went well?
- What was unsuccessful?
- What did we learn?
- What can we do differently next time?
By asking the same questions as you review each aspect, it becomes easier to see your response as a whole – not just in individual silos. The results of this exercise, and the answers to these questions, will help your agency develop its after-action report and pinpoint areas for improvement in COOPs and incident-response plans, as well as existing operational procedures, policies, technologies, and facilities.
Leveraging Results for Positive Change
The primary purpose of these efforts is to influence positive change for your agency by improving incident response in the future. Considerations for improvement based on the results may include:
- Changes to existing operational policies and procedures regarding cleaning and sanitizing of workstations, employee health and safety, and remote work
- Upgrades to existing technology to enable remote operations
- Adjustments to existing COOPs and incident-response plans that consider pandemic or other health-related crises
- Development of comprehensive COOPs and incident-response plans for agencies that do not have them in place
- Staffing levels and adjustments needed to maintain efficiency during an incident, while protecting personnel health and safety
- Renovations or building updates to protect staff-member health and enable them to shelter in place during a health-related crisis, if necessary
- Implementation of regular tabletop exercises to test COOPs and incident-response plans, and revise as needed
Comprehensive COOPs and incident-response plans are critical to successfully managing a crisis. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and it can be impossible to plan for the unforeseeable, these plans are living documents. Conducting regular testing through tabletop exercises enables agencies to adjust and rewrite plans entirely, or revise sections that have become outdated or weakened by changes to operational policies or implementation of new technologies.
Funding to Support Your Review and Remediation Efforts
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional funding has been made available to states from various federal sources. Many of these grants have been developed to support mission-critical agencies in activities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the ongoing coronavirus public-health crisis.
While all grants are not created equal, allowable activities may include, but are not limited to:
- Planning: Funding to support planning includes COOP, disaster-recovery, and incident-response planning
- Equipment: Allowable equipment purchases include information technology (IT), personal protective equipment (PPE), and power equipment
- Training: Funds can be used for a range of emergency management training, including development, delivery, and evaluation of training programs
- Construction and renovation: Projects for a state, local, tribal, or territorial government’s primary emergency communications center (ECC)/emergency operations center (EOC) can be supported by some grant funding
- Consulting: Consultants or contractors may be hired to support training and planning activities
Funding allocations for each grant vary from state to state. To learn more about specific funding for which your agency may be eligible, contact your state’s grant management-and-distribution authority.
For additional information about how Mission Critical Partners can support your incident-response review and after-action reporting activities, including identifying grant-funding opportunities and securing grant funds for planning, preparation and response to the ongoing COVID-19 public-health crisis, contact us today.