DEbRief 101

A look at why, when and what for all things debrief

Why Debrief

One of the obvious benefits of a debrief is that it allows the department and wider organisation to examine strengths and weakness that can then help shape and refine planning and policy. Another benefit is that it allows individuals involved to examine their own behaviour for reflective practice and make personal improvements. It is widely accepted that one of the most effective ways of learning is to experience (or action) and reflect on what happened which then feeds into the next experience/action.

When to Debrief

There may be times where an incident or event requires immediate operational response from your team. These events are impossible to predict and as such, you head into a completely reactive situation with little to no planning. A working strategy will likely begin to form instantly after receiving first information and will continue to develop as intelligence is gathered. In this instance, the person having access to this early information, communications and resources, will often take command, likely a control room supervisor or manager. Resources are dispatched, decisions are made, the incident is controlled and eventually dealt with, details are recorded and logged and anywhere in this, command may switch over to a more senior person such as the CSO.

On the opposite side of this, a planned event may mean extra resources are in place, risk assessments are completed, partner agencies are informed, contingency plans are put in place and there may be a pre-event strategy. But what if a major incident still occurs? Of course, it is dealt with the same as a non-planned incident, but there will be more preparedness.

Whichever way it happens, larger scale and/or high priority incidents will usually require a debrief. What happened? What decision was made, when and why? Who was where? What did we learn? And so on.

Here, we break down some of the key areas of a debrief
... though this article is by no means exhaustive!

Pre Incident - History and Planning

If the incident stemmed from a planned event, attach completed risk assessments, the staff rota and duties, briefing notes with time and location etc.  These can all be easily upload to IRS Pro on the incident.

It’s also useful to record if there were any incidents or activities in the lead up to the incident that are relevant, even if only suspected as related. Having all the information in one place helps build the full picture for a full review.

During Incident - Tactical Review

It is imperative to collect a factual, informational summary of the incident, the methods of tactics and intent of the actions that were taken. Ideally, this would be completed within 72 hours of the incident but certainly no more than 14 days.

The best way to do this is often chronologically so take the team through the order of everything that occurred capturing who was in command, timestamps, who did what and why, additional events, information gained, location details, the strategy/policy followed.

A key item to be sure to record here is the decisions made at times during the incident and the rationale behind them. It’s best practice to log these during the incident if there is time, this can be done via ‘Notes’ in IRS Pro so they are automatically user logged and timestamped.

During Incident - Communications

We’ve chose to pull this out into it’s own section, though it still falls within the incident section. In the first instance, what methods of communications were used in the incident between resources and how effective were they? Were there any miscommunications at any point or a break down?

Next to consider is the communications to the public, other staff members and if any other agency was informed and involved. Things like mass messaging to students on a campus have become increasingly popular with certain modern day threats to safety. Again, all of this shapes the full picture of the incident we are building.

Finally in this section, were communications sent out immediately after the incident or between the incident and this debrief. Was there a team meeting debrief ran quickly? Does a report need to be sent to upper management? All these questions can be created instantly in IRS Pro and added into a form template.

Post Incident - Lessons

Finally, any lessons learned should be recorded with appropriate actions to ensure they are implemented for the future. This includes any training gaps identified if acceptable competence or standards have not been met – though conversations about training needs should be held individually to avoid personal criticism in the meeting.

Health and Safety is another important factor, any items of concern should be logged and given an owner to ensure they are carried out by a set date. This decreases future risk and ensures duty of care is fulfilled.

A full record of the debriefing should be retained for audit and disclosure purposes.

Resources – College of Policing UK, Wiltshire Police, Leicester Fire & Rescue Service


Top Tip

When asking colleagues for details on the incident, try to ask open-ended questions. Avoid assisting the answers along or asking multiple questions at the same time. Here are some example of open-ended questions:

• Where were you at the time of the incident call?

• What were you doing at that time?

• What time did you arrived on scene?

• What did you observe?

• What were the environmental conditions (weather, light, noise, etc.) at the time?

• What was the first thing you did upon arrival?

• What were the injured people/victims doing at the time?

• How, in your opinion, might similar incidents be prevented in the future?

• Were any witnesses around?

• How well, in your opinion, do you think our department dealt with the incident?

• What other details would you like to share?