Edited Version May 26, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation

"Automating After Action Reporting withPlan AHEAD:
A Process Control Tool"

Leo Frishberg
Chief Of Operations
Cliffside Software, Inc

Michael Frishberg
Cliffside Software, Inc

The original unedited transcript of the May 26, 1999 Tech arena presentation is available in EIIP Virtual Forum Archives <http://www.emforum.org>. The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the participants to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Tech Arena!

For the benefit of our first-timers, when you see a blue web address, you can click on it and the referenced Web page should appear in a browser window. After the first one, the browser window may not automatically come to the top, so you may need to bring it forward by clicking on a button at the status bar at the bottom of your screen.

We will start with a presentation, and then follow with a Q&A session for your questions and comments. Right before we begin the Q&A portion we will review the procedure.

Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/varena/990526.htm>.


Today we are pleased to welcome Leo Frishberg, COO of Cliffside Software, Inc. assisted in the background by Michael, President. Both of these gentlemen have extensive experience with exercise design, and have taken the benefit of that experience to design a product to help others, Plan AHEAD.

But today they are going to be showing us how to use Plan AHEAD for after the fact, whether it is post-exercise evaluation, or after an actual occurrence.


Amy Sebring: Welcome Leo and Michael, and thank you for joining us today.


Leo Frishberg: Thank-you Amy and Avagene for giving us the opportunity to present today, and thanks to all of you who are participating. Our presentation today addresses the maxim: "The job's not done 'til the paperwork is finished".

Regardless of whether you are reporting on an actual incident or trying to document the results of an exercise, the closing activity is creating the After Action Report (AAR). This presentation begins by summarizing features of a typical AAR, the importance of AARs and arguments for a consistent approach to writing AARs. We will then propose a method of creating AARs using the automation tool Plan AHEAD. Our concluding remarks describe how Plan AHEAD adds value to the AAR and the remediation process.

Before summarizing the features of an AAR, we'll put it in its rightful place in the on-going preparedness cycle. For the purposes of this presentation, consider these simplified views of an incident vs. an exercise: SLIDE 2 please, Amy.


Leo Frishberg: As these abstractions make clear, there is little difference between the process of performing an exercise and the process of responding to an incident.

Where differences do become significant is in the review process. In the case of the exercise, you have the opportunity to predict what to measure and evaluate (whether you take advantage of this opportunity is up to you!). In an incident, you have no such luxury, even though measuring your organization's response is equally, if not more, important.

Looking more closely into the review step may reveal additional important differences between the two processes. SLIDE 3 please, Amy.


Leo Frishberg: The great advantage to running exercises is the ability to control what gets tested - in FEMA parlance, the Functional Requirements of the organization and/or plan. As the left hand diagram displayed, the Functional Requirements of the plan are the source of the evaluative criteria used throughout the exercise.

During the post-mortem of an incident, you have to decipher what functions were stressed and/or fulfilled based on the documented activities of the responders. This key distinction helps explain why documenting the results of an incident is often so much more difficult than writing up the results of an exercise.

Keeping this key difference in mind, let's shift gears for a minute and look at the After Action Report (AAR) document itself. Few would question the relevance of the AAR to both incidents and exercises, yet most people consider it one of the most tiresome documents to generate. Before addressing the issue of AAR "drudgery", consider a few of the reasons why AARs are important: Slide 4 please, Amy.


Leo Frishberg: But one of the biggest benefits is that the AAR provides official closure to the incident / exercise. It signifies that the event is over and has at least been accounted for. Psychologically, this is an extremely important milestone, especially after a particularly difficult, hazardous or strenuous event.

If they're so important, then why is it often so difficult to generate them? SLIDE 5 please, Amy.


Leo Frishberg: And, they can be very tricky to write. If you offer too much information you may be putting someone's career at risk (possibly your own!), or you may be exposing to public view potential liabilities, shortcomings, etc. If you don't offer enough information, the report may no longer serve its function of helping make your organization better prepared.

Most organizations consider themselves lucky if they have a standard format for their AARs. There is certainly no accepted standard within even one emergency management discipline, let alone across disciplines. For the sake of this presentation consider the following AAR elements:

SLIDE 6 please, Amy.


Leo Frishberg: Some organizations reduce to a minimum the amount of verbiage in the document, relying on matrices, forms/checkboxes, etc. to summarize their findings. Others provide statistics buried within narrative passages. There are no distinct advantages of one format over another, but lack of consistency within an organization contributes to the AARs bad "rep".

Consistency in presentation of incident/exercise results is extremely important for a number of reasons: Slide 7 please, Amy.


Leo Frishberg: Traditionally the AAR is viewed as a post incident document, yet it is equally important as a proactive tool for guiding improvements and changes to your preparedness efforts. So, how does one reduce the drudgery of generating AARs, improve their content, consistency and format and make then a tool for post incident remediation not just post incident reporting?

Automate as much of the process as possible, which naturally leads us to the primary focus of today's presentation: Plan AHEAD. SLIDE 8 please, Amy.


Leo Frishberg: With Plan AHEAD, it's pretty easy to implement an After Action Reporting methodology , whether the event was simulated or actual. The key is to reconcile the differences we described earlier between evaluating an exercise and evaluating an incident: whereas you design an exercise for the express purpose of testing specific functions, after an incident you have to determine what functions were tested.

The next sequence of slides demonstrates how to use Plan AHEAD to quickly create a standardized AAR, irrespective of the AAR's focus. Consider the hypothetical incident in which an Operations Center loses power, triggering the backup generators. From FEMA's perspective, this event stressed the "Resource Management" Functional Requirement, specifically the "Equipment availability" Sub-function.

If we were writing this as an exercise, we would link a Functional Requirement to an "objective" that would subsequently be evaluated. If we are documenting an incident, we use Plan AHEAD the same way - link a Functional Requirement to a set of Lessons Learned through an objective.

For those of you not familiar with the software, Plan AHEAD looks like a 3-ring binder, assigning each of the exercise development (incident documentation) tasks to separate tab sections of the binder. The next slide shows the Objectives Tab Section of the notebook on which I have entered an objective linked to the Resource Management Function / Equipment availability Sub-function. SLIDE 9 please, Amy.


Leo Frishberg: The actual mechanics of entering the Objective is simple: type the Objective into the space provided. Creating the "link" to the Function and Sub-function was equally simple: we displayed the list of available Functional Requirements and selected the most appropriate one; Plan AHEAD displayed the association on the page.

Once again, recall the primary difference between reporting on an exercise and reporting on an incident - in an incident you don't have control over what got tested. Using the Objectives Tab Section in Plan AHEAD, you re-establish control over what functions are included in your report by linking the Functional Requirements to the Lessons Learned using an Objective.

Although the notebook has numerous intervening Tab Sections, we're going to skip to the Lessons Learned / Corrective Action / AAR Tab Section to immediately enter the Lessons Learned for this Objective. If we wanted, we could set up the notebook to display only a handful of Tab Sections. We have displayed all of the available Tab Sections to give you an idea of the other tasks Plan AHEAD performs when used to develop an exercise.

SLIDE 10 please, Amy.

[SLIDE 10]

Leo Frishberg: For each Objective (Functional Requirement / Sub-function), Plan AHEAD permits an unlimited number of associated Lessons Learned. Using this approach to developing your Lessons Learned, Plan AHEAD organizes your AAR, improving the clarity of your post-incident analysis and communication.

After entering a set of Lessons Learned, the next step is to develop a set of Corrective Actions for each Lesson Learned. Under the FEMA (among other federal programs) approach, each Sub-function has associated Corrective Action Requirements (CARs). CARs categorize "areas needing improvement". Plan AHEAD permits you to establish your own CAR categories, or use the ones specified by various federal agencies.

For each Lesson Learned, you select which category best represents the area that needs improvement, and Plan AHEAD automatically creates a generic Corrective Action. A single Lesson Learned may require action in multiple categories, as the next screen shot shows: Slide 11 please, Amy.

[SLIDE 11]

Leo Frishberg: Although not required, when Lessons Learned are assigned Corrective Action Requirements, Plan AHEAD can generate reports listing Corrective Actions by category. This type of report might be useful for a management presentation in which you want to discuss all Corrective Actions having to do with Equipment, or Training.

The last step before we generating a report is to enter the actual Corrective Actions themselves. The next screen displays the "flip-side" of the Lessons Learned / Corrective Action page, with the selected Lesson Learned displayed at the top of the page. SLIDE 12 please, Amy.

[SLIDE 12]

Leo Frishberg: Once again, the mechanics of entering this information and making the appropriate associations is trivial. We estimate that it took us a total of 3 minutes to enter the information on the three screens. Of course, the time to collect actual information during the debriefings, give proper consideration to the meaning of the responses and to think up the Objectives, Lessons Learned and Corrective Actions is where the real time is spent.

Yet once the information is entered into Plan AHEAD, it is available for a variety of reports, for future exercises, etc.

With Plan AHEAD, you can generate an unlimited number of reports, formatted as you need. The software's reporting system is based on "templates" similar to "mail-merging" found in most word processors. Plan AHEAD supplies dozens of sample templates both to use "out of the box" and as examples of what you can create yourself. Once you have designed a template for an AAR (or modified the one provided), actually generating the report involves one click of the mouse.

The following is an example of a portion of an AAR that Plan AHEAD could generate for the information we have entered for this demonstration:

SLIDE 13 please, Amy.

[SLIDE 13]

Leo Frishberg: Because of Plan AHEAD's flexibility with reporting, we could have displayed the information in a variety of ways, including more or less information, formatted differently, etc. The reporting system is also compatible with any Windows based word processor, so the electronic files can be easily brought into your organization's current document standards. (We created the previous slide in Power Point using the Plan AHEAD report itself).

Consider the following scenario:

Document an incident with Plan AHEAD and distribute to various responsible parties the Corrective Action plan you've created. Each week (or month) you contact these individuals to get an update on their progress. As their tasks are completed, you enter the date into the "Date Done" field on the Corrective Action Tab Section and re-generate the report. When management requests a status check, you can quickly scan the report to determine the status of each task.

Consider some of the benefits of using Plan AHEAD to track incident results and create After Action Reports: SLIDE 14 please, Amy.

[SLIDE 14]

Leo Frishberg: Thank-you for the time to present a new twist on a task few relish. Although building After Action Reports is often a painful process, Plan AHEAD reduces the time and difficulty involved, and in many cases can make post-incident tracking and management almost trivial.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Leo. Great presentation. A reminder to first-timers that the entire presentation will be online early next week with all the slide links for future reference. Now we will take some questions or comments. Audience, please enter a question mark (?) to indicate you wish to be recognized, go ahead and compose your comment or question, but wait for recognition before hitting the ‘enter’ key or clicking on Send. We now invite your questions or comments.

[Audience Questions]


Libbi Rucker Reed: You stated you can use this for an actual event/incident. Is this similar to SDS's software? Or is this primarily for exercise design?

Leo Frishberg: It's used to document the incident after the fact, not manage the incident "on-line".

Libbi Rucker Reed: Ok, that is where my confusion was. Thanks!


Rick Tobin: Leo, please tell us about the plans you have to use the Internet to post samples.

Leo Frishberg: We are in the process of enhancing our web site to permit users to check-out and deposit exercise examples, etc.

Amy Sebring: Glad you asked about that Rick! I noticed that on their Web page also which is <http://www.cliffsidesoftware.com>.


Steve Trogdon: Leo, early on you referenced the ability to inter-face with an implementation plan for corrective actions. How does this work?

Leo Frishberg: Incident or exercise results may imply changes to your plans (or training, equipment, etc.). By documenting the results in an organized way, Plan AHEAD helps you identify what areas of your plan need to be changed. Through the assignment of responsibilities, priorities, dollars, etc., Plan AHEAD helps you track the specific actions necessary to implement.


Russell Coile: The State of California has a "Standardized Emergency Management System" and a mandatory AAR as part of the Response Information Management System (RIMS). Do you have any plans to fix things for graceful use of your system to feed into the RIMS AAR we must submit? SEMS was activated in Dec. 1996. I was in the second RIMS class at CSTI a couple of months ago.

Leo Frishberg: Hmmm. We have been working closely with California's CSTI during development and have a copy of the AAR format used there. Yes, we are considering CA's RIMS as a logical interface to Plan AHEAD.


Amy Sebring: Leo, what does/can Cliffside Software make available in the way of training for Plan AHEAD?

Leo Frishberg: Currently, Cliffside is delivering regional training workshops varying from 3 to 5 days.


Amy Sebring: Is a schedule posted on your Website?

Leo Frishberg: Not yet. Good suggestion. Also, we have a self-study guide in process, and are available for custom training at your site or at our offices.


Amy Sebring: Do you have an idea when the guide will be ready?

Leo Frishberg: We are in final review of the draft. So, anytime real soon now!


Bryan Standley: On slide 10 you "Entered two lessons learned".

How does the system know from what you entered how the function and sub-functions are identified?

Leo Frishberg: Actually, the system keeps track of Functions and Sub-functions based on an associated "Objective". The user can then make the connection between the Lesson Learned and the Function/sub through the associated objective.

Bryan Standley: Nice! Thanks.


David Wolfe: You described AHEAD as a post incident application, does AHEAD integrate into other "real time" info systems/applications? Any plans?

Leo Frishberg: We have had this request from both users and vendors of these other operational and planning products. Some ideas we have explored are: integrating the "messaging" system of Plan AHEAD with these other products. Integrating the plan "functions" with Plan AHEAD Functions, plan procedures with Plan AHEAD "expected actions" and tying the corrective action plan back into these other products.


Rick Tobin: Leo, is your software ready for Y2K?

Leo Frishberg: Plan AHEAD is Y2K compliant. We have tested it by both authoring exercises on the day (simulated of course) and by developing exercises which span the millennium.


Isabel McCurdy: Does Plan AHEAD have International applications?

Leo Frishberg: Please clarify.


Amy Sebring: Isabel is from Canada, Leo. Do you have some installations up there?

Isabel McCurdy: You talk about CARS, FEMA, what about incorporating other countries’ models?

Leo Frishberg: Plan AHEAD is installed in England, Panama Canal, Scotland, Canada, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Tonga. Because the sequence of developing the information is flexible (the notebook can be organized in a variety of ways) and because the reporting system is very flexible, we believe other "models" can be accommodated easily. For example, Canadian customers include: Manitoba Telecom, Justice Institute of BC, EM Mgmt Saskatchewan and CIBC Bank.

Russell Coile: A "Global Disaster Information Network" is being developed now. There was an international meeting in Mexico City recently, and working groups are being established, including User group.


Amy Sebring: Which leads to a question I was going to ask also.

Do you have an active User Group for Plan AHEAD, Leo, that share ideas?

Leo Frishberg: Even though 43 state offices of EM Mgmt are installed, we have yet to establish a formal User Group. This is another feature of the web site we are exploring.

Final Question:

David Wolfe: Demo info? 30 days? Full-featured?

Leo Frishberg: Right. On our web site you can download a "tour" version of the product. This version permits you to review many of the functions without entering information.

David Wolfe: Thanks.

Leo Frishberg: In addition, we have money-back guarantee policy and a 30 day trial program for commercial customers. Give us a holler at 1.888. 752.6489 for details.

As one final comment please keep in mind that Plan AHEAD is a general purpose management process control tool, with obvious application to Emergency Management.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much for being with us today Leo and Michael off-screen. Following up to incorporate lessons learned is the only way we can make progress in this field.

Ava, can you give us a heads-up for upcoming events?

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Next Tuesday, June 1, the Round Table will start at a new time, one hour earlier -- 12:00 Noon EDT. Please make note of the time; our thinking is that both weekly sessions at the same time will avoid confusion. SALEMDUG is scheduled to lead the discussion as a monthly Round Table by the organization.

Next Wednesday, June 3, 12:00 Noon EDT, the Virtual Library proudly hosts a session with Roger Piece. Roger will be talking about Hurricane Season 1999, a very timely topic since the hurricane season officially starts June 1. Make plans to join us next week, Tuesday and Wednesday at 12:00 noon EDT. That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Ava. Thank you audience. We will adjourn for now, but you are invited to return now to the Virtual Forum room to thank our guest and have some further open discussion.