The After Action Review of YOU!

Ashley Morris
7 min readDec 28, 2020


The After Action Review of YOU: Creating a 2021 Directional Plan

With a little over three days left in 2020, many emergency managers are excited for the new year ahead. A new year means new calendars, planners, and aspirations. A new year means that we can try to leave the pain, struggles, and stress of 2020 behind. Despite the newfound hope, a flip of the last digit in the year doesn’t wipe the slate clean.

We will still be neck-deep in a pandemic response. Some of us will be recovering from other 2020 disasters, such as wildfires or hurricanes. Others may find themselves in the middle of another no-notice incident, such as a severe winter storm or a human-induced explosion. All of us will have the task of tackling an extensive economic recovery in our jurisdictions, which could threaten the tax-base and budget of the jurisdictions in which we work. We will also have to navigate an long and detailed reimbursement process, which for many of us (myself included), is our first real taste of the lengthy process.

Our challenges will continue. Some challenges are foreseen, while others might not be revealed by 2021 yet. Despite the ominous tone of the beginning of this blog, it is more important than ever to take some time this week to pause, rest, and reflect on this past year. It is a great time to conduct an after action review of YOU to celebrate your achievements, take note of your failures, and to craft a plan to improve as a new year arrives! Just as we do with our incidents, a personal AAR could put some pep in your step as we take on new challenges in 2021.

Assess Your Own “2020”

The first step in your AAR is to review what events unfolded professionally. What events occurred in your 2020? What did you respond to this year? What challenges presented themselves to you and when? Did you have any notable changes throughout the year to your professional life? A simple way to do this is to create a 2020 timeline of your professional work. When conducting this AAR, try to look at it through a lens focused on you. This isn’t an AAR assessing how effective agency response was in 2020. This is about YOUR professional events and what happened with YOUR growth and YOUR goals.

After you finish up your professional timeline, take some time to look at your personal life. Professional and personal are intertwined delicately. It is important not to leave out your personal growth away from the office. Did you move to a new place? Complete a big life goal? Start a family? Make new friends? Strengthen old relationships? All of these are great to include. Be sure to really look at how you responded to some of the big challenges of 2020. Also, give yourself a pat on the back. Your perseverance through this year to this point deserves an applause.

What Went Well?

During a hot wash, the first question after the general description of what went on during the incident or exercise is the “what worked” segment. THIS SECTION IS IMPORTANT! Don’t skip this section and only review what went wrong. It is critically important to pause and take a look at your victories. Documenting your successes can help you identify your strengths as well as the growth you are seeing professionally and personally. While it may seem easy to just focus on the negatives to improve upon, you are robbing yourself of half of the benefit of the AAR. If you wouldn’t skip this section in a hot wash or an actual EM AAR, then don’t skip it for you!

Just like with the previous section, break your successes and accomplishments up into professional and personal. Try to dive deep into both and find progress and improvement in both equally. If you struggle with finding a lot of progress in either, make note of that as well. A lack of forward progress can be a leading point of emphasis in your new goals for 2021.

What Didn’t Go Well?

Depending on the person, this can be the hardest section or the easiest. Some people are good at identifying where they need to make improvements and are constantly adjusting their goals to fill lapses in skills and progress. Others may have a hard time looking at failures and missteps. Try not to look at any slip ups as a way to label yourself as a failure. We all have down years and challenging times in which we may not be as successful or motivated. These identified issues help us know what we need to do better and give us some direction for new goals.

If you continue to struggle with this exercise, think back to how you conduct incident after action reviews. An AAR with just positives and no negatives is not effective in improving an emergency plan. It hurts agency growth and does not guarantee a flawless response in the future. Do this exercise professionally and personally.

What Actions Need to be Taken to Improve?

This is the best part of the AAR process! This is when we create an agency task table and assign solutions to the areas in which need improvement. This table is the starting point to new 2021 goals for your career and your life! Create a table with multiple columns and rows and review your list of achievements and slip ups. What activities or goals can you create to focus on some of the weaknesses found in 2020? Can you take a class or do a training? Can you find a mentor and seek guidance? What about finding a deployment opportunity to enhancing incident management skills? Think through some of these potential actions and add the goals to the chart along with what weakness they are focusing on. Be sure to take a look at some of the positives as well. Do you have some strengths that you want to focus on and become a leader in the field? What are some steps that can help you continue to improve those successes or strengths?

Don’t forget to create SMART goals! Just like with objectives, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Limited. Slap a “due date” on each goal to keep you on track throughout next year.

Don’t Review in a Silo

This could be one of the greatest challenges of all, but it can also allow you to pinpoint the most growth if you are open to it. Consider asking trusted family members, friends, or colleagues about some of your strengths and weaknesses. When we conduct AARs and plan corrections, we never do so in private. There is value to input from others to enhance our perspective and refresh some of our own interpretations of self. It is essential that you find people you can trust with this, as well as people who won’t just tell you all positives or all negatives. The best example is someone who knows you well and who wants to see you succeed. These types of people will give you valuable insight into both lists.

While outside guidance is helpful, never feel obligated to implement or change any of your goals based on outside approval or disapproval. Outside input is simply there to allow you to see things that you might miss. It provides an outside view of you. Take it with an open mind, but also with a grain of salt. Only you can decide what life goals and structure that you want to achieve. Impressions from others can sometimes not be fully representative of the successes and failures of the person.

Your Top 10!

The assessment has been complete, and you have a bunch of SMART goals for 2021. The final step is to assign a number to each of them based on importance or focus. Don’t try to work on all of them at once. That much change can be overwhelming and feel defeating. Focus on certain areas at certain times until you meet the desired goal. Can you think of your top 10 areas off of the top of your head right now? My top goal is to complete my CEM in 2021. No more waiting!

After you have completed your 2020 AAR and your 2021 direction plan, be sure to review your plan at least monthly (weekly is recommended). Just like with emergency plans, directional plans can be forgotten if not reviewed. Look over your goals as 2021 moves along and assess your progress. This repeated review can help you get back on track, and it also feels great to check off a goal as you go!

How Can Others Help You?

The emergency management community is a tight-knit one. Many of us would love to help out a colleague with career-based knowledge, experience, mentorship, or even resources. Think through your goals and don’t be afraid to seek mentors. I have had many generous emergency managers offer to mentor me through the CEM process, and I am really thankful for that because the CEM process can seem daunting to complete alone. Think about how #EMGTwitter can help you and put it in motion. We are a giant family after all!



Ashley Morris

CEM | MD Emergency Management | Preparedness & Alerts & Plans | IMT | Social Media | VOST | SVI | Weather Forecasting | Geoscientist | GIS | ♥️🚒 #EMGTwitter