It is noted that having a good lessons learned system is a widely used operations tool in industry. The development of the current programmatic database took a more bottom-up approach than the previous (2002) version discussed in NRC (2002). With continuing support by the Army, the current version of the database has gone through several iterations to arrive at its present form. The data in the system are almost entirely specific to operational issues arising during weapon destruction at their respective facilities. Nonetheless, the data on closure, while currently limited to the three facilities that have closed thus far—Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System, Aberdeen Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, and Newport Chemical Agent Disposal Facility—are likely to be of interest to demolition contractors, for example. The committee strongly supports the concept of continuous improvement of the existing system for programmatic data.

The Importance of Lessons Learned

In any endeavor, the experience that comes from doing offers opportunities for learning and gaining wisdom. This is true whether the outcome of the activity was good and as anticipated—or otherwise. That is to say that we learn from our past, both good and bad. Similarly, the chemical stockpile disposal program has embraced a lessons learned approach. When dealing with chemical agents and other toxic substances, protecting the safety and health of the workforce and the surrounding communities becomes an essential priority. This is true for activities spanning construction and agent disposal operations, and it extends to the closure and dismantlement of the disposal facilities. It becomes an even more critical priority as the majority of the workforce shifts from workers trained in agent disposal operations to those trained in demolition but who are less familiar with chemical agent properties and safe practices in agent issues.

Strong anecdotal evidence indicates that a lessons learned approach has been helpful in the planning, construction, operation, closure, and deconstruction of chemical agent disposal facilities over the course of the chemical stockpile disposal program.2 The committee judges that a continued, formalized, lessons learned process has and continues to significantly benefit the conduct of chemical demilitarization closure activities.

Defining Lessons Learned and the Lessons Learned Process

A lesson learned is derived from knowledge, experience, training, exercises, and actual incidents, and it reflects both positive and negative lessons. The lessons learned process can be divided into four discrete steps (see Figure 4-1):

  1. Identify idea and articulate concepts.

  2. Codify, catalogue, approve, and store.

  3. Search and retrieve.

  4. Integrate into current work activity.

Only by completing all of the above steps is the value of the prior knowledge and experience able to be fully assimilated and be useful in planning and executing a specific task or change. If any of the four steps is not completed, the objective of having a functioning lessons learned process is not fully realized. Likewise, the continuous improvement process applies to all steps. It is also important that any staff member, government, or contractor be able to easily access the data and find any lesson learned that is applicable to a particular issue. Moreover, the committee believes that a mechanism should exist whereby proposed lessons learned that are initially rejected be independently reviewed and potentially reconsidered for inclusion in the database.

The current lessons learned process flow (shown in Figure 4-2) was adapted by the committee from a more detailed flow sheet prepared by the Army. Many of the current documented lessons learned are pertinent to agent processing operations. Some of the information concerning closure lessons learned from the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System and associated procedures apparently exists only in hard copy and is not able to be digitally searched. However, there is a growing body of electronically searchable knowledge and experience relevant to closure, deconstruction, and dismantlement. This latter body of knowledge, the closure-based lessons learned, is the focus of the evaluation done by the committee.

This committee has focused its attention on the programmatic lessons learned process that is managed by the Army and its prime contractor. Useful data reside


Personal communication among Brad Tibbils, Project Manager, URS; Peter Lederman, committee chair; Leigh Short, committee member; and Deborah Grubbe, committee member, March 3, 2010.

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