CDC Learns from Katrina: Understanding the Value of an After-Action Report
Hurricane Katrina was one of the strongest storms to impact the coast of the United States during the last 100 years, causing widespread devastation along the central Gulf Coast states of the U.S. Cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana, Mobile, Alabama, and Gulfport, Mississippi bore the brunt of Katrina's force. Federal disaster declarations blanketed 90,000 square miles of the United States, an area almost as large as the United Kingdom. As of December 12, 2005, CDC had deployed 766 responders to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in response to the devastation and disaster left in Hurricane Katrina’s wake.
To review the CDC’s response successes and areas for improvement, it convened a multi-disciplinary After Action Report (AAR) Workgroup.
This team was charged to identify strengths and opportunities for the improvement of CDC’s all-hazards preparedness and response investments related to our Hurricane Katrina response so immediate steps could be taken to improve performance.
An AAR is a discussion of a project or an activity that enables the individuals involved to learn for themselves what happened, why it happened, what went well, what needs improvement and what lessons can be learned from the experience. The AAR is a professional discussion that includes the participants and focuses directly on tasks and goals. It is not a critique. In fact, it has several advantages over a critique:
- It does not judge success or failure.
- It attempts to discover why things happened.
- It focuses directly on the tasks and goals that were to be accomplished.
- It encourages employees to surface important lessons in the discussion.
The lessons learned from this activity help inform and improve CDC’s understanding of the process behind public health emergency response, as well as the strategies and tactics employed before, during, and after an event. As a learning organization, CDC has and will continue to use this open assessment format to gain knowledge about itself and its ability to perform.