After action reviews: The good, the bad, and why we should care

After action reviews: The good, the bad, and why we should care

Posted: Nov. 16, 2017

Work within the fire service involves frequent encounters with occupational hazards. Many fire departments try to minimize accidents and injuries through after action reviews (AARs).

photo of people at an after action review
High-reliability organizations (HROs) are organizations that have fewer than normal accidents. Source: high-reliability.org

A recent study1 explored what makes for a good or bad after action review, what makes a review satisfying to attendees, and its impact on group safety norms. The study also looked at the effects of good attendee behavior on desirable outcomes for AARs in high-reliability organizations (HROs).

Researchers suggested that good AARs help individuals clarify their role within the group and express the group’s safety norms. They give active and willing participants a venue to build a common picture of what happened and why. Wide participation in conversations and decisionmaking in meetings of this type can improve performance.

Research takeaways

  • Consistent and routine AARs are important for gaining a comfortable acceptance of them within a unit or crew.
  • AARs provide a venue for team building and potentially enhancing the safety climate on crews.
  • A good AAR makes attendees feel they have the ability to effect positive outcomes.
  • It is vital that meeting organizers not only suggest, but strongly encourage, input from everyone.
  • Organizers should emphasize that improved group performance — not retribution — is the desired outcome.
  • Meeting facilitators must encourage a respectful and safe environment for free discussion that avoids assigning blame to individuals: look for solutions, not scapegoats.

Learn more about this research

The research article is available through our library by contacting netclrc@fema.dhs.gov. Interested readers may be able to access the article through their local library or through the publisher’s website.

See also: Operational Lessons Learned in Disaster Response PDF 2.5 MB

1 Crowe, J., Allen, J. A., Scott, C. W., Harms, M., & Yoerger, M. (2017). After-action reviews: The good behavior, the bad behavior, and why we should care. Safety Science, 96, 84-92. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2017.03.006

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