Matt Blair

Matt Blair

I read that you learn more from a poor example than from a correct one. I don't believe this but that means my site will be a success.

Decoding the Origins of CAN Reports

A SitRep in three parts

3-Minute Read

In the realm of incident management, accurate and swift communication is vital. Different organizations adopt various strategies to ensure efficient communication during emergencies. One such strategy that has been gaining traction is the utilization of CAN reports, a mnemonic that stands for “Conditions, Actions, Needs.” Let us delve deeper into the intricacies and origins of this unique reporting format.

What is a CAN Report?

A CAN report, fundamentally, serves as a structure to relay critical information succinctly during an incident. It breaks down the report into three primary segments:

  • Conditions: This part describes the current situation, giving a clear picture of what is happening.
  • Actions: Here, the actions taken so far are detailed, offering an understanding of the steps undertaken in response to the conditions.
  • Needs: This segment outlines what is required or needed next, paving the way for a structured request for resources or further actions.

Origins of the CAN Report

The origin of this format traces back to the U.S. fire departments where it was utilized as a standard mnemonic for radio reports. However, its practicality and effectiveness have seen it being adopted in various other sectors, including IT incident management.

One of the pioneers in bringing this format to the IT sector has been the consulting firm, Blackrock 3 Partners, which specializes in IT incident management training based on best practices derived from the emergency services sector. They not only offer a certification program for IT incident responders but have also extensively discussed the utility of CAN reports in a podcast.

The Debate: CAN Report or SitRep?

While the CAN report has established its foothold in incident reporting, there is a conversation to be had about its nomenclature. Some industry experts believe that the term “CAN report” might be a misnomer and that it could more appropriately be called a “Situation Report” or “SitRep.”

The reasoning behind this alternative terminology is that the CAN structure can effectively be employed in various reporting contexts, not limited to just incident reports. The term “SitRep” would, therefore, highlight the format’s flexibility and wide-ranging applicability, making it a mnemonic tool useful in a variety of situations, and not restricting it to a specific kind of report.

Educational Resources

For those keen on exploring the historical background and usage of CAN reports in depth, a resourceful PowerPoint presentation that hails from a fire department training deck is available. It offers a detailed history and utilization of CAN reports, elucidating how this tool has evolved over time.


Whether you prefer calling it a CAN report or a SitRep, what remains undeniable is the format’s efficiency in structuring communications during emergencies and critical incidents. Its origin from the U.S. fire departments to its contemporary application in IT incident management is a testimony to its practicality and adaptability in high-pressure situations.

As we wrap up, we invite you to reflect on the potential of adopting the CAN report format or the broader SitRep structure in your organization’s incident management strategies, to foster clarity and structured communication in critical moments.

Special Thanks

I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Brent Chapman and Tricia Bogen for their contributions to my understanding of CAN reports. Brent’s detailed explanations and historical insight, coupled with Tricia’s engaged and thoughtful questions, were incredibly helpful. Their expertise has not only shed light on the nuances of CAN reporting but also opened up a rich discussion on its functionality and application.

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