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  • Justin Cuckow

Ready for the second wave? What should the debrief cover?

Updated: Aug 8



What’s the right timing for an After-Action Review or incident debrief? Most organisations are still responding to the impacts of the first wave of the pandemic and preparing the workplace for return in line with COVID Secure guidelines. But just as we lost valuable time in early March when we could have been in lockdown (and according to Neil Ferguson of Imperial College have halved the deaths in the UK), the time to prepare for a second wave is now.

You may not be convinced of a second wave yet (we’re all hoping for that). However, with senior UK health leaders today calling on government to be prepared, it is good practice to review your incident response, especially given that it has driven huge changes in the way that businesses are operating. Are you confident your new processes are incident proof now?

We’ve seen the images of packed beaches in the UK. In the USA the number of new daily infections in increasing in more than half of all US states and a second area of Germany has been locked down after an outbreak. The economic impacts mean that anything other than localised lockdowns are unlikely in a second wave limiting the state’s power to exert control over the virus. If history teaches us anything it is that pandemics do come in waves and that the second (and third) come harder and faster given wider prevalence in the community.

So how do you frame your debrief and make sure you’ve captured improvements in preparation for further waves of the pandemic? In the rush to focus on re-opening the workplace and to make it COVID Secure, make sure you take time to look backwards so as to prepare more robustly. Good incident management practice will have had you keeping a log of decisions and issues as you go along. If you haven’t already set up a simple spreadsheet to log learning points, then it is never too late to start, and to ask incident team members to do so too.

Learning from incidents is a critical part of building resilience. I’ve argued in previous blogs that we have forgotten the art of near miss management to help us drive continuous resilience improvement. So, what does a good post-incident debrief or after-action review cover?

Whilst there are many models from simple to complex, key principles are:

1. Hot debrief – strike whilst it is fresh in people’s minds

2. Keep blame out of it, and focus on what happened and what was expected to happen. Bring in an external facilitator if needed

3. Run chronologically and thematically

  • For example, think about Triggers (what made us act?), escalation process and timeliness, leadership and incident team representation, effectiveness of decision making and information flow, dependencies on key individuals and of course communications. Get feedback on how effective communications have been from the people that received them, that were due to act on them.

  • Think about root cause of problems (ask the 5 why’s)

4. Human factors – don’t forget to look at these, and these are often at the root cause. In a prolonged incident such as this people are routinely tired, overwhelmed, distracted by responsibilities outside work, lack training, lack process to follow or struggle to navigate team dynamics. Sadly bereavement and mental health struggles are common too. What more can you put in place to support your people if things get worse?

5. Lessons learned. Typically, what we really mean is lessons identified.

Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again” Franklin P. Jones

Are you clear on the process to track improvements and to ensure that the human factors are addressed? Can you act fast on these? If not, how can you accelerate progress?

6. Audit experience of business continuity management systems against ISO 22301 shows that whilst processes do get updated and actions closed, often the staff briefing and training and testing the new process works via a walk through or exercise gets overlooked. If you haven’t set triggers for when you will scale for a second round and run scenarios to check you are ready, I’d encourage you to do so.

If you’d like to learn more about running an after-action review to help you prepare for a second wave, please give me a call to discuss how I can help; 07812 024 003.





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