The 11 steps of FEMA’s lesson capture process
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a pretty good process for capturing and distributing lessons. Here are the 11 steps.
Every Emergency Services organisation pays close attention to Lesson-Learning (see for the approach taken by the Wildland Fire Service). They know that effective attention to learning from lessons can save lives and property when the next emergency hits.
The lesson learning system at FEMA was described in an appendix to a 2011 audit document and showed the following 11 steps in the process for moving from activity to distributed lessons and best practices. Please note that I have not been able to find a more recent description of the process, which may have changed in the intervening 7 years.
FEMA Remedial Action Management Program Lessons Learned and Best Practices Process
- Team Leader (e.g., Federal Coordinating Officer) schedules after-action review
- After-action review facilitator is appointed
- Lesson Learned/Best Practice Data Collection Forms are distributed to personnel
- Facilitator reviews completed forms
- Facilitator conducts after-action review
- Facilitator reviews and organizes lessons learned and best practices identified in after-action review
- Facilitator enters lessons learned and best practices into the program’s database
- Facilitator Supervisor reviews lessons learned and best practices
- Facilitator Supervisor forwards lessons learned and best practices to Program Manager
- Program Manager reviews lessons learned and best practices
- Program Manager distributes lessons learned and best practices to Remedial Action Managers
- a lack of a common understanding of what a good lesson looks like; the examples shown are mainly historical statements rather than lessons, and this example from the FEMA archives has the unhelpful lesson “Learned that some of the information is already available information is available”
- a lack of consistent application of the after action review process (in which I would include not getting to root cause, and not identifying the remedial action),
- a lack of use of facilitators from outside the region to provide objectivity,
- limited distribution of the lesson output (which has now been fixed I believe, and
- loss of their lessons database when the server crashed (which has also been fixed by moving FEMA lessons to the Homeland Security Digital Library).
So even a good process like the one described above can be undermined by a lack of governance, a lack of trained resources, and a poor technology.