Kabilan: After the tornadoes, let’s avoid the ‘lessons learned’ trap
As Ottawa-Gatineau shifts from response to recovery after six tornadoes ripped through the region, there will likely be a review of how authorities responded to this event. The aim of such exercises is to identify the “lessons learned” from the incident in order to improve response and resilience in the future.
Improving Canada’s response to events like this, which resulted in severe damage in several areas and knocked out the electricity supply for more than 300,000 customers, is crucial. This may well be our new normal: more extreme weather events that have a significant impact on our communities. The challenge is how we learn from these events. Emergency management professionals need to understand what went well during the response to an incident, as well as what might need to be improved. Building a picture of what worked and what did not can be used as the foundation for improving resilience to future emergencies. These kinds of exercises are usually referred to as “lessons learned.”
Unfortunately, “lessons learned” is one of the most misused terms in emergency management.
Reviews of responses to major incidents over the last two decades show a number of repeated recommendations that were not implemented — sometimes with deadly results.
About the Author
Dr. Satyamoorthy Kabilan is the Vice President, Policy at the Public Policy Forum where he oversees a range of public policy initiatives. Before joining the Public Policy Forum, Dr. Kabilan was the Director for National security and Public Safety at the Conference Board of Canada, where he was responsible for events and research on national security issues. This included a range of work on counter-terrorism and radicalization to violence. Before moving to Canada, Dr. Kabilan co-founded and managed two technology start-ups. He was a leader in the UK’s Future Security and Intelligence Outlook Network (FUSION) and provided strategic consultancy to the Ministry of Defence, National Policing Improvement Agency, Serious Organized Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Cyber Security Operations Centre. In addition, he has been involved in developing the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Strategy (CONTEST), supported the capability development of the National Crime Agency, and worked on future force development for the UK’s Ministry of Defence.