Local agencies reminded that they need to review actions taken during Covid emergency

A member of San Mateo County’s health team administers a Covid vaccine. Photo courtesy of San Mateo County.

Daily Post Staff Writer

According to state law, cities, counties and other local agencies are required to do after-action reports anytime they declare an emergency. But in the wake of the Covid emergency, only a few agencies in the Post’s circulation area have announced they are doing such a report.

The idea of the report is to review how the agency responded to the emergency and how to improve the government’s response to an emergency.

Retired Menlo Park Fire District Chief Harold Schapelhouman on Tuesday sent out an email (see below) to some local agencies reminding them of the law requiring them to do an after-action report, and advising them to conduct an honest assessment.

Accountability and transparency

“As a former fire chief who spent 40 years in public safety and specifically in special operations, where I responded to some of the worst disasters in the nation, I have directly seen the benefit of honest formal post-incident assessments that resulted in significant improvements for future responses,” Schapelhouman wrote in an email to the city of Menlo Park. “Whichever each jurisdiction chooses, transparency and actionable improvement recommendations should be at the core of any after-action improvement effort.”

Schapelhouman points out in his email that the state’s State of Emergency ended on Feb. 28, as did the emergency proclamations for most cities and counties in the area. The state has given itself 180 days to get its after-action report done.

Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors in October hired CNA Corp., a company that specialized in assessing government responses to disasters.

CNA’s employees are talking to residents, business associations and leaders in cities, school districts and hospitals. Employees in the county’s Public Health Department and Emergency Operations Center will also be interviewed.

The report was initially set to come out in March but has been delayed until summer.

The city of Palo Alto complied with the state law by issuing an After Action Report on its emergency, which extended from March to June 2020. Here’s a link to that report.

What about San Mateo County?

San Mateo County is working on its report, county spokeswoman Michelle Durand told the Post yesterday (Wednesday, April 19), 24 hours after initially being asked about the report.

But nothing appears to have come before San Mateo County’s Supervisors about this issue.

County Supervisor David Canepa could not recall hearing anything about an after-action report when asked about it yesterday.

On Tuesday, County Attorney John Nibbelin told the Post that he thought the county’s Department of Emergency Management was handling the report and he had “a call into (the department) to get information into what we have done.”

The most recent briefing on Covid that the Board of Supervisors received was on March 14, when the board heard a presentation on the various “recovery programs” the county has enacted, which included giving money to various restaurants, childcare facilities, small businesses in North Fair Oaks and how it spent money from the state to buy hotels and convert them into apartment buildings.

A report on San Mateo County’s Covid response may likely cover the PPE fiasco where $10 million of personal protective equipment being stored at the San Mateo County Event Center was destroyed in October 2021 by rainfall. The PPE matter was investigated by retired Sequoia Union High School District Superintendent Jim Lianides, who issued a 12-page report, which did not say who knew the safety equipment was left outside but did make some recommendations for ways the county could improve its emergency response.

Retired fire chief Harold Schapelhouman’s email to various local governments on April 18:

Honorable Elected Officials and Governmental Leaders

After reviewing multiple city and county web-sites, specifically each agencies stated strategic priorities, goals and projects, road maps, action plans and visioning processes for 2023, very little related to Covid-19 could be found.

After three years of constant Covid impacts, this obvious societal inclination to move forward and onward is clearly evident and predictable. However, by law, the California Code of Regulations, Title 19, § 2450 (a) states “Any city, city and county, or county declaring a local emergency for which the governor proclaims a state of emergency, and any state agency responding to that emergency shall complete and transmit an after action report to Cal OES within ninety (90) days of the close of the incident period.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the Covid-19 State of Emergency ended on February 28, 2023. On April 10, 2023, President Biden signed a measure that immediately ended the Covid-19 National Emergency after more than three years from when it was enacted. However, the actual public health emergency declaration is scheduled to end on May, 11, 2023.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal-OES) is currently preparing additional after action guidance and timing, given their own requirement to provide an after action report 180 days after the incidents closure.


Given these requirements, I recommend the required Covid 19 After Action Reporting Process be added to each governmental agencies 2023 strategic priority work list.

The After Action Report should not be seen as a punitive process, but rather an opportunity for governmental agencies specifically responsible for public safety and essential services to reflect on their strengths and address any weaknesses or short comings in preparation for the next, or potential future events.

Key findings, recommendations, gap analysis and best practices can highlight benefits associated with emergency planning updates, community engagement, training, exercises, equipment purchases, and critical but flexible strategies needed to not only prepare for the next emergency but also reflect on what worked and what didn’t.

As a former fire chief who spent 40 years in public safety and specifically in special operations, where I responded to some of the worst disasters in the nation, I have directly seen the benefit of honest formal post-incident assessments that resulted in significant improvements for future responses.

Beyond the basic requirements outlined by Cal-OES and the state’s timeline, governmental agencies could choose to conduct a more comprehensive process based upon public comment, feedback or engagement process and/or requests and feedback from local officials under a shared vision of improvement and preparedness.

Whichever each jurisdiction chooses, transparency and actionable improvement recommendations should be at the core of any after action improvement effort.

Suggested reference links:

Suggested reference links:

Cal-OES After Action Reporting

FEMA Preparedness Tool Kit

FEMA HSEEP COVID After Action Planning Template

CDC After Action Template

US-HHS COVID After Action Template

WHO After Action Template

IFRC The World is not ready for the next pandemic

Thank you.
Harold Schapelhouman, Retired Fire Chief
Local, State, Federal First Responder