Debriefing an Incident

Debrief and Conduct an After Action Review with Staff and Partners

Debriefing Ground Rules 

To facilitate a debriefing:

  • Respect colleagues. Refrain from personal remarks or assigning blame.
  • Be honest and willing to share your knowledge and experience.
  • Keep discussions about individual performance within the group.
  • Read through the background information and consider the discussion questions.
  • Accept the drinking water advisory as it happened.
  • Avoid getting bogged down in small details.
  • Think about the big picture.
  • Provide paths forward and solutions where possible.
  • Observe the time limits allotted for the debriefing.

Debriefing after an advisory helps organizations and communities understand what happened and why it happened during a drinking water advisory. A debriefing offers an opportunity to voice concerns and offer potential improvements. It often is informal and may be led by a neutral facilitator.

The format and size of the debriefing is based on the scope and scale of the drinking water advisory. In general, each division or organization that participated should be involved. Debriefings may benefit from having the perspective of an organization that was not involved but was affected by the drinking water advisory.

An After Action Review (AAR) is a structured form of debriefing that can compare planning with real activity. AARs can provide a clear understanding of what contributed to success and how to replicate it in the future. They also can provide a common understanding of where improvements can be made and who will be responsible for following through on agreed action steps. AARs describe outcomes and planned actions.

The debriefing and AAR process and tools can be adapted for individual exercises and debriefings. See the Exercise Planning Template Cdc-word[DOCX – 2 pages]small wrench icon representing tools .

See the Debriefing Discussion Guide Cdc-word[DOCX – 1 page]small wrench icon representing tools and the Sample Agenda for an After Action Review Meeting Cdc-word[DOCX – 1 page]small wrench icon representing tools as an example.

The following are steps for conducting a debriefing.

  1. Prepare: The Sample Agenda for an After Action Review Meeting Cdc-word[DOCX – 1 page]small wrench icon representing tools and the Advisory Feedback Guide Cdc-word[DOCX – 4 pages]small wrench icon representing tools can be used to plan a debriefing.
  2. Conduct: Ground rules should be established. Consider using an outside neutral facilitator.
  3. Report: Results of a debriefing can be incorporated into future planning efforts.