Creating a Culture of Learning: After-Action Reviews

Creating a Culture of Learning: After-Action Reviews
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2021-05-05
Unit 1Slide Deck: Creating a Culture of Learning
Unit 2Transcript: Creating a Culture of Learning
Unit 3Workbook: Creating a Culture of Learning
Unit 4Recording: Creating a Culture of Learning

It’s been said time and again, it’s only failure if you don’t learn from it. In the current political climate where law enforcement is under scrutiny, efforts taken to improve policing are steps in the right direction. Critical incidents serve as learning opportunities not only for the agencies that went through harrowing experiences but also for other agencies that get to see emerging and best practices in action and areas for improvement should a similar situation happen to them.

This webinar discusses forging a culture of learning through After Action Reports (AAR). This session’s speakers are Jennifer Zeunik, Ben Gorban, and Dr. Frank Straub from the National Police Foundation (NPF). Jen is the Director of Local Programs overseeing the organization. Ben is a Senior Project Associate working on incident reviews of public safety responses to mass incidents. Dr. Straub is the Director of NPF’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies (CMVRS) conducting in-depth studies of targeted mass violence events.

Topics covered in this course include:

  • An overview of the NPF: Their history, mission, and their divisions and efforts dedicated to the field of research and policing.
  • What AARs are, how this fosters a culture of learning, provides a safe space for honest conversations, and improves policing.
  • The Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando, leveraging lessons from a similar incident’s AAR and identifying opportunities for improvement within their agency through their own AAR.
  • The value in conducting AARs in terms of improved preparation and response, coordination and collaboration, communication and community engagement, transparency, and accountability.
  • A brief look into the cycle of learning utilized in various industries and how it can be capitalized upon in law enforcement.
  • How creating a culture of learning requires a shift in perspective to be more accepting of mistakes, reviewing these to identify pain points and areas for improvement, and letting go of punitive approaches.
  • The guidebook on how to conduct AARs produced by the NPF and key questions that should be addressed in an AAR.
  • A step-by-step outline of an AAR that involves:
    • Identifying the purpose and scope of the AAR and the entity to best conduct the AAR.
    • The data gathering, research, and stakeholders’ input.
    • Analysis of all available data to develop recommendations.
    • Sharing the findings and implementing lessons learned.
  • Examining the common areas of focus in AARs.
    • Sufficient planning, training, and preparedness required for incident response.
    • Improving and consolidating policies and procedures for better response during an event.
    • Coordination and collaboration among disparate agencies.
    • Leadership, command, and control concepts to employ unified incident command and the individuals that must be part of the command group.
    • Communication efforts during and following an incident, and policy and protocols surrounding the messaging, the channels, and the audience.
    • Creating staging areas to better coordinate deployments ad avoid potential issues that arise from self-deployment.
    • Safety and wellness of all responders and their families.
  • Resources to refer to on all things related to After Action Reports
  • Case examples were provided to better explain concepts surrounding AARs and its importance.

Topics raised during the Q&A were on:

  • AAR templates, examples, and guides.
  • Best practices to start an organizational culture that embraces learning through AARs.
  • Pitching the concept of AARs to leaders and executives.
  • Concerns about those with ill intentions getting ahold of AARs to aid their planning.


Resources and Handouts


Audience Comments

  • “That AAR should always be conducted daily basis to ensure preparedness, an action plan, and execution to its most safety with no or few casualties if possible.” — Karen
  • “I found it difficult to put into words, but AAR’s are very vital for the developing of law enforcement agencies. However, in today’s social climate there are agencies that refuse to change or deviate from what they have always done. Herein lies a bear trap that will affect all of law enforcement because the public expects us to be consistent and fair. It is important that all agencies, large and small, adapt. Our goal as law enforcement is to be trusted and supported by the community, not feared or question.” — Mark
  • “Gave us overall guidance as to how to establish an AAR.” — Gene
  • We must become better at integrating police, fire and ems on large scenes. — Heather
  • “I wish all agencies would start using this and not make it punitive.” — Julia
  • “Timely topic with all that is happening to and within LE today. The environment is rife with minefields…. “– Christopher


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