LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – The State of Michigan outsourced a COVID-19 After-Action Report (AAR) which resulted in it being created in consultation with Tidal Basin Group of New York. Although after-action reports are typically done in-house, this report was completed by a third-party for an undisclosed amount of taxpayer money by a company outside of Michigan.
The Michigan State Police (MSP)/Emergency Management & Homeland Security Department (EMHSD) and the Michigan Dept. of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) began the development of this After-Action Report/Improvement Plan (AAR/IP) to “capture response outcomes, strengths, areas for improvement, and recommendations for future responses.”
The report says its purpose is to “improve Michigan’s response to future pandemics and other disasters” and is intended to be “used as a guide for State of Michigan agencies and departments to consider as they reflect on their experiences in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.” It was meant to “help to inform future preparedness and planning, policy and procedure development throughout the state.”
The AAR, which was obtained by Michigan News Source through a FOIA to the Whitmer administration, did not have a draft number on it so it is unknown if it’s a complete and final report however it is labeled as a “pre-decisional draft” on the documents.
To date, the governor’s office has not released this report to the public yet or made any public comments regarding its contents.
The report, which covers the period of January 1, 2020 to July 31, 2021, was put together by an AAR planning team between October 2021 and July of 2022 by talking with state employees and external partners in what they called a “comprehensive information gathering process.” Data was collected from stakeholder meetings, document analysis, surveys, and interviews to inform the report for the executive leadership, department directors and those who the aforementioned parties deem “critical partners.”
The AAR planning team consisted of representatives from the MSP/EMHSD, MDHHS and the Attorney General’s Office.
The executive summary of the report said that “overall, the event was well coordinated across the State of Michigan” and the recommendations in that section only consisted of 135 words. The writers of the report singled out the Michigan Executive Office of the Governor (EOG) to say, “The EOG staff worked long days during the 19-month pandemic response evaluation period to ensure the governor remained accessible to constituents and stakeholders.”
The methodology used in the report included surveys and interviews which were part of the “comprehensive information gathering process.” The findings were identified through an analysis of data collected “predominately from personnel employed by state-level agencies and departments throughout Michigan.”
A response survey was sent out to agency leaders who distributed them to their staff but it only resulted in 137 survey responses out of approximately 47,000 state employees. Those who participated in the survey were from only 15 of the 26 state agencies/departments.
The following is a list of the departments and the amount of surveys that were completed: Health and Human Services (56); Michigan State Police (29); Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (17); Agriculture and Rural Development (11); Treasury (7); Military and Veterans Affairs (3); Bureau of Fire Services (3); Natural Resources (3); Civil Service (2); Department of State (2); Aging and Adult Services (1); Corrections (1); Economic Development Corporation (1); Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (1) and Michigan Public Service Commission (1).
The general survey that was offered to Michigan workers on an anonymous and voluntary basis was designed to assess their perceptions of the Michigan’s COVID-19 response and capture first-hand experiences during the pandemic. It measured things like the satisfaction of their agency’s response and how that response changed their other work that had to be done. It also asked about leadership and training. The surveys could be completed through a phone or computer web browser and took approximately 15 minutes.
No survey was returned from anyone at the Michigan Department of Management, Budget and Technology (DTMB) even though they were tasked with providing secure log-ins for the remote access of state employees as well as the procurement of equipment and supplies, including millions of PPE items, for the state throughout the pandemic. They have approximately 2,800 employees.
The staff in the Michigan Executive Office of the Governor (EOG) also did not complete a survey. The office is comprised of approximately 75 people and only six of them did interviews for the report with just three of them being recorded. Only 48 interviews across all departments were recorded in total.
The AAR planning team also conducted interviews but very few participated. They conducted 79 interviews with 108 interviewees across all state agencies/departments and the Red Cross. The minimal participation in the surveys and interviews results in a report that was written with limited input from the people actually in charge of the pandemic response.
Although this report was written to document Michigan’s response to the pandemic, what it didn’t do is establish metrics on what constitutes a successful response or discuss the results from that response.
Things that are undoubtedly important to Michiganders were not covered by any of the after-action reports.
There was no mention of the effects of Michigan’s pandemic response on nursing homes and the deaths from the Executive Order putting COVID-19 patients into those homes; no report about the deaths of Michiganders because they couldn’t get medical procedures and surgeries done; no report on the drug addictions that resulted from people in trying to alleviate dental pain when they weren’t able to make a dental appointment; no report on the effects of school closures on Michigan students and their health and education because of remote learning; no report on the effects of vaccine and mask mandates; no report on the overall cost to the economy and the amount of businesses that permanently closed; and no reports on things like the TCF Center and Ford Field operations or the vaccine sweepstakes – either in cost or effectiveness.
What’s probably most alarming about what’s actually in the report is the finding of how the The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) operated in conjunction with everyone else during the period that the report covered. On February 28 2020, Michigan’s State Emergency Operations Center was activated in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The report states that, “The state’s existing Incident Management structures and systems were exceeded by the complexity of the pandemic and exacerbated by parallel responses to simultaneous disasters. State government did not effectively employ unified command. Research findings indicated a lack of response staff in state government that are trained in the Incident Command System (ICS) and have institutional knowledge/experience in emergency response (Incident Management).”
The report pointed out that “several decision-making authorities operated in parallel during the COVID-19 response, sometimes resulting in an unclear chain of command.”
The report stated that “major strategic decision-making occurred outside of the SEOC command structure” even though the SEOC had command-and-control responsibility for response operations.
It said that the working groups in the Executive Office of the Governor, all state departments and even the SEOC itself “operated outside of formal emergency response structures resulting in inconsistencies such as operating procedures, terminology, communications and management.”