After-Action Reviews: An Important Component of Your Travel Risk Management Plan

Despite the significant amount of time and effort that goes into emergency planning, organizations frequently overlook a critical aspect of a comprehensive travel risk management plan: after-action reviews (AARs). Conducting an AAR following an incident can help an organization better understand how to streamline crisis response. After-action reviews also allow organizations to gain input from all departments involved in the response to an incident, providing them an opportunity to voice what went well, what needs improvement, and how response can be better conducted in the future. Furthermore, travelers who were directly affected by a crisis can provide a unique viewpoint on how an organization’s emergency plan was executed. Read this post to learn more about the AAR process and how it can be utilized by organizations looking to enhance their travel risk management strategies.

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AARs: What They Are & Why They’re Important
After-action reviews were first developed by the military and are common practice amongst police forces, NGOs, and private companies following a crisis. After-action reviews are now becoming a vital component to any organization’s emergency management strategy. When a crisis involves a traveler abroad, an organization’s response will often require a multifaceted approach that needs to include the input and expertise of multiple departments. Let’s consider the complexity of evacuating a group of study abroad students in the wake of a severe natural disaster. In such a scenario, there will be issues that require input and decision-making from multiple individuals and administrative departments. The Student Affairs Department, for example, will be concerned with the safety of the students and ensuring everyone has their important documents (e.g. passport, visa, photo identification) intact for travel.

Additionally, there should be an appointed representative to act as the point of contact (POC) to parents and concerned family members. Depending on the severity of the situation, the president of the college and/or board of trustees may want frequent updates on the situation. Moreover, someone from the Public Relations Department will need to handle any media requests and provide public-facing comments on behalf of the university. The Finance Department will need to be involved as it pertains to monetary concerns, and the Legal Department may be involved depending on the political sensitivity surrounding the evacuation. And of course, emergency managers will be tasked with logistics behind the evacuation, providing advice to the travelers abroad and facilitating communication among the various departments.
Worth noting: This is a relatively basic example as the level of logistics required, the amount of communication involved, and the specific of departments engaged could vary depending on the type and severity of the incident.

Upon resolution, AARs become a crucial element of the emergency management process, allowing organizations to identify gaps in their response and suggest improvements to the process moving forward.  From a liability perspective, regularly conducting AARs and engaging with individuals once they return from travel can help establish an organization’s commitment to maintaining duty of care responsibility. By taking steps to improve emergency response, organizations can reduce the probability of certain types of incidents occurring and better ensure that all parties involved are capable of responding to any incident that arises.

AARs: More About the Process
As described above, AARs are traditionally conducted in the aftermath of an incident and are utilized by those involved in the response to determine their effectiveness. The entire AAR process typically includes formal documentation from all departments involved, allowing them to list individuals who participated in the response and describe actions taken during the crisis. Each department provides input on what went well and areas for improvement. In addition to documenting the incident response, meetings are an opportunity to gain additional perspectives and allow individuals to connect in person. Documentation from AARs can also be used in the future to recount the events of an incident. Often, organizations will review their crisis response at major strategic meetings.

Organizations should make a concerted effort to act on recommendations for improvement and implement strategies that enhance their response capabilities. However, a common criticism of AARs is that although they do a successful job of recapping actions taken during an incident, the recommendations for improvement are rarely acted upon. One way organizations can facilitate process improvement is by including those affected by a crisis in the AAR process.

Those who were being assisted during a crisis can provide a different viewpoint compared to those who conducted the response during the crisis. By including travelers who were directly affected by a crisis situation in the AAR process, organizations can gain increased insight into the overall effectiveness of their emergency response strategy and areas where improvements can be made. For example, travelers may indicate they were overwhelmed by the amount of communications they were receiving during the event, or conversely, they may have felt the organization was unresponsive to their needs. Similarly, if your organization utilizes a third-party travel risk management provider to assist during a crisis, travelers may provide insight regarding the level of service they received.

In conclusion, emergency managers should be encouraged to broaden their approach to AARs and identify ways to involve travelers in the process. After-action reviews are fundamental tools that organizations can leverage to help streamline their emergency response protocols and make improvements to their travel emergency plans. Third-party travel risk management firms like On Call International can help organizations better understand how to establish an AAR process and implement the recommendations that result from them. For more information, contact us today.


For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.