What is a “Hot Wash”?

A hot wash is the immediate "after-action" discussion and evaluation of an agency's (or multiple agencies) performance following an exercise, training session, or major event, such as the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency. "Hot wash" is a term which originated in military and government circles to describe the debrief process of reviewing the actions taken during an event and to identify opportunities for improvement. It typically involves a team of leaders representing all areas of the company or agency to discuss what went well and what didn’t during a crisis. It can involve surveys and feedback from employees to provide valuable insights.

The most critical and valuable component of the hot wash is to develop an action plan; actions that will be taken to increase the readiness of the organization and improve it’s response and ability to weather a future crisis. The entire purpose of a hot wash is to learn from your mistakes and do better next time.

Why should I do this?

Let’s say you have a bad vacation. Maybe you spent too much money, maybe you didn’t dress for the weather or maybe that hotel you stayed in didn’t have air conditioning and you don’t know how you overlooked that. You would probably think to yourself, “The next time I go there I am going to make sure to pack more shorts and DEFINITELY won’t stay at that hotel”. You won’t guarantee yourself a better trip but you certainly increase your chances by not repeating your mistakes.

A hot wash is just taking your thoughts, observations and ideas and giving you a solid process to learn from your mistakes so you can avoid repeating them in the future. It doesn’t cost anything other than time. Not only can this help you recover from the current state of emergency but can help maintain operations during the next business disruption.

How do I conduct a hot wash?

FEMA published this hot wash form for government agencies to use following a flu pandemic. Tempest Risk Management has developed a hot wash template for businesses to guide them through the exercise.

Some guidelines to keep in mind:

· Perform the hot wash as soon as you can - Memories fade, capture them while they are still fresh.

· Dedicate the time – An hour is probably not enough time to capture everyones thoughts and ideas. Schedule at least half of a working day to draft the hot wash and action items.

· Facilitate – A senior leader or third party professional should facilitate the hot wash.

· Document – Documenting the discussion and action items is vital. Designate a team member to take notes and display them electronically or on a white board/poster during the exercise.

· Delegate – Assign the participants and other leaders in your organization the action items. Get status reports weekly until each action item is completed

· Update your business continuity plan – Use the lessons learned from your hot wash to update and enhance your business continuity plan. If you don’t have one, use the hot wash template to craft one or contact Tempest Risk Management to help develop a formal business continuity and disaster recovery plan

Good luck, stay safe and remember…if you are going through hell, keep going.

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