Text Analysis of After Action Reports to Support Improved Emergency Response Planning

Published in: Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, v. 8, iss. 1, article 57, 2011, p. 1-17

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2011

by Kay Sullivan Faith, Brian A. Jackson, Henry H. Willis

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Common failures in emergency responses could be reduced if response organizations had a more systematic way to incorporate lessons learned from exercises and past events into their plans. Reliability and risk concepts from systems engineering provide one framework for improving emergency response planning, but it is unclear if sufficient data exists to apply these techniques. This study combines a text analysis of 70 after action reports (AARs) with a failure mode effects and consequences analysis (FMECA). This approach provides a mechanism to connect the AAR process with efforts to improve emergency response planning. The text analysis is able to identify the frequency of both common (e.g. lack of equipment or training, communication failures) and uncommon (e.g. medical or transportation infrastructure destroyed, units misunderstand or refuse orders) failures modes across a range of emergency response events, but is unable to obtain sufficiently detailed information on the consequences of those failures or their root causes to fully implement a FMECA. These findings suggest that future analyses of response failures could draw on AARs as a data source. However, AARs would be more useful as a source of information on emergency response performance if they were standardized to more explicitly include the causes and consequences of failures during emergency response operations.

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