June 8, 2022
By Nathan Hall and Justin Mammen
Why Should Courts Perform an After-Action Review?
Even for the most prepared court organizations, there will always be lessons learned following a major emergency or disaster. The recent pandemic is certainly no exception. This reality is borne out as elements of many courts’ COOP plans did not turn out to be as useful as they were initially envisioned. Hence, all courts need to assess the lessons learned through an After-Action Review (AAR) process.
Performing an AAR is an opportunity for a court to document what went well, what went wrong, and to think strategically about how to improve its COOP plan moving forward. More specifically, this process should assess the significant actions taken, the key decisions made, and important steps taken to ensure that the court was able to maintain its essential functions. The AAR is also an opportunity to assess any new processes developed during the emergency for application on both a permanent and emergency basis. The AAR process is not a “blame game” to highlight individual failures, but a way for the court to objectively assess its overall response and enhance its resilience to future disasters
How to Perform an AAR?
At a minimum, a court should convene its executive leadership responsible for emergency management to review what went well, what did not go so well, and action steps to address deficiencies moving forward. Ideally, the AAR process should go beyond this meeting. Additional activities could include meetings with key stakeholders to assess coordination, collaboration, and communication efforts. In addition, surveys and follow-up interviews with individual staff or departments can be conducted to gain insight into the specific issues faced by those staff and departments.
Tips for a Successful AAR
- Do not delay the AAR process. The AAR should be done while the important steps and actions taken are fresh in the minds of the court organization. Not convening the AAR in a timely manner increases the risk that institutional memories will fade and that the lessons learned will be forgotten.
- Get leadership buy-in for prioritizing the AAR process and set aside resources for conducting a thorough and complete assessment with meaningful involvement from all levels of staff and stakeholders.
- Complete the AAR process by documenting findings in a report. It is important that responsibility for writing the report be assigned to a specific individual and that sufficient time is set aside to document the findings clearly and effectively. Action items should be specific and assigned to individuals/departments with a designated completion date. Any lessons learned should also be incorporated into the court’s COOP plan and supporting pandemic-related annexes, and any other related emergency planning documents.
How is your court addressing continuity of operations post-pandemic? For more information or to request assistance in conducting an AAR for your court, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Vimeo.