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Critiques are one of the most effective ways PC SAR has to improve the manner in which it works. The purpose of a critique is not to be critical but to share an understanding of what worked well and what could be improved.

PC SAR performs a critique after all but minor incidents.



In order to have an effective critique, we try to adhere to these principles.

Neutral knowledgeable facilitator

The person selected to chair the critique and manage the critique process should not have been involved in the incident. A critique should not be hindered the blind spots that we each have. If the facilitator is someone that was involved in the search, especially a member of the overhead team or Incident Commander, there's a risk that if one of their personal blind spots affected the incident, they will still be blind to it and not see it as needing discussion.

The facilitator should be a knowledgeable person. He or she should understand the subject matter (in our case SAR). This usually means someone with Search Management training. A knowledgeable chair can understand the points being raised and not slow down or misdirect the conversation.

Invite all stakeholders

A critique should take a look at all aspects of the incident. It is an opportunity for all players to brainstorm together to understand ways of improving.

As such, all people that have a stake in the incident should be invited. This typically means Pincher SAR invites the other SAR groups that participated along with the police and other government agencies. We invite everyone who participated, regardless of their role in the incident. (E.g. field searchers, call-out personnel, overhead team members, spontaneous searchers, the subject, and family).

Attending a critique is a valuable learning experience even if you couldn't respond to the incident. We invite all of our members to attend all critiques.

Sometimes we have to limit the number of participants to an effective maximum size of 20 to 30. If we think the numbers are too large, we would selectively invite representatives from all stakeholders and supply an alternative means of input for the others.

There will always be some people that cannot attend the critique. They should be invited to submit their feedback directly to the facilitator.

Respect confidentiality

Searches are usually done on behalf of the police and often there will be requirements to keep some or much of the information confidential. These requirements should be reiterated before entering into the discussions.

Facts first

Before getting into discussions, all the participants should know the facts. This allows all the participants to discuss ideas with a clearer understanding of the situation.

A written summary of the incident should be prepared prior to the critique. This is typically drafted by the last Incident Commander. If there is time, it should be circulated prior to meeting and additions and feedback incorporated.

At the critique the written summary should be read, or if one has not been completed then a verbal report can be given. Any corrections should be taken and the summary updated.

Focus on learnings

A critique is not about criticism. It should not become a situation for blame or guilt.

Instead a critique should be about learning. All participants should agree to focus on bringing out ideas that will help improve the response to future incidents.

Learnings can come from things that didn't work well and ideas on how to change them. But it's just as important to bring up learnings from things that worked well and should be repeated or further developed.

Ideas, not decisions

The critique is a brainstorming session. Many of the ideas that are brought up during the critique will take some serious thought before they are implemented. We don't want the meeting to get bogged down in debate. So the focus should be on capturing the idea and not deciding on whether or not to implement it. Sometimes the decision will be obvious, but most often it's better to leave the idea as a suggestion directed to the parts of the organization that would normally handle such ideas.

Pincher SAR has a number of committees that specialize in areas of governance, budget, standard operating policies, equipment, training and membership.

Discuss around functional areas

After an incident of any size there is a lot to discuss. If every person brings up every point they can think of, the meeting will be so long everyone will be exhausted.

To bring out the most relevant points and focus discussion, the chair should walk the meeting through the functional areas of the incident one by one. E.g. Call-Out, Search Techniques, Demobilization. There is a list of possible functional areas in the sample agenda below. Usually there won't be enough time to discuss all functional areas so the chair should select the ones that are likely to be most relevant.

Round table

After the functional areas have been discussed, enough time should be left near the end of the meeting for a round table. This allows any important idea that hasn't been raised to be brought out. Often it's here that you'll hear from those who have otherwise been very quiet through out the meeting.


Leading up to the critique

  • Prepare for the meeting
  • Pick a time (Tuesday evening?) when most participants in the search are available.
  • book a room (Fire Hall, MD Meeting Room, Town Hall Gym)
  • Announce by e-mail or call-out.
  • Have someone (usually the last Search Manager involved) draft a 1 page summary of the incident. (see Incident Summary Form Task)
  • Invite the tasking agency and other organizations we worked with to send a representative. Many SAR groups are listed at:
  • Decide whether snacks are needed and arrange them.
  • Collect suggestions from those members that can't attend.

Your effort: 1 hr

At the critique

  • Chair the meeting.
    • Your function is to focus and facilitate the discussion. Let the participants do most of the talking.
  • Ask someone to take detailed notes.
  • Sample agenda (usually there is not enough time for all of these items; focus on the important ones)
    • introductions
    • sign in (to the critique)
    • confidentiality
    • brief report from person in charge of post op activities (last search manager?) re expenses, lost and found, work needing doing, etc.
    • what a critique is
      • understanding
      • learning, improvement
      • suggestions, ideas
      • how suggestions will be distributed
      • committees that will make decisions on suggestions
    • incident summary (from draft 1-page report)
    • functional areas of incident (there likely will only be time to cover the most significant)
      • mandate
      • first notification / tasking
      • call-out
        • typical questions: Was the appropriate type of personnel requested? Were there people that met the criteria that were not called?
      • investigation
      • communications
      • resources
      • (de)briefing
      • searching
      • access/return from segment
      • extrication
      • stand down
      • CISM
      • prevention, public education
      • travel
      • planning
      • logistics
      • media
      • family
      • post ops
      • learning (How has/could the critique support learning? For exercises, how did/could the goals/techniques promote learning?)
      • miscellaneous
    • round table (anyone have points that they need to bring up that wasn't already mentioned)

Your effort: 1.5 hrs

After the critique

  • Report
    • Edit the incident summary to include information that came out in the critique.
    • Sort and write up the suggestions (we have examples of this). See PCSAR Doc-97 on [1]
    • Assign suggestions to be reviewed by PC SAR board, PC SAR preplan committee, PC SAR equipment committee, PC SAR call out committee, PC SAR training committee or one of our partner organizations.
  • Forward your report to each group.
  • Send the sign-in list from the critique to the Membership Coordinator.

Your effort: 2.5 hrs.

Critique notes

See also

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