AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Emergency Services: The Best Strategic Planning Tactics (Part 2)

By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

In my last article, I discussed the fact that strategic planning is very cumbersome and can intimidate some people who are not accustomed to utilizing it. Because of these factors, strategic planning is often not initiated in an emergency services organization.

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As a result, there are less than focused actions or wasted time working on areas that are not in alignment with the overall goals of the organization. Often, this situation occurs because there are no overall goals or the goals have not been communicated to the organization. To combat these deficiencies, I propose the adoption of a reverse-engineered strategic planning system that is able to ease leaders into its use.

Start Small with Strategic Planning: Capture What You are Doing

Starting small with your strategic planning is advisable, as most leaders in an organization can tell you what they currently do. Some can also tell you why they do these tasks. Capturing who is doing what tasks helps all of your command staff to understand the bigger picture; it also pinpoints where duplicate tasks are performed.

Once these tasks are collected, you can use a Gantt chart to record the times when each of these tasks are conducted. This strategy establishes a visual idea of how much work is being done throughout the year.

It is also helpful in communicating to the organization and other interested parties  — such as municipal leaders — to see the amount of work needed to keep a public safety organization operational. While this approach may seem very “in the weeds,” it allows for the next phase, as the organization is accustomed to winding down what tasks need completion and tracking them.

Strategic Planning of Next Year’s Projects

Once you have personnel writing down their tasks and tracking their progress on the Gantt chart, you can move from tasks to objectives or other projects. Each element within the overall organization likely has goals that they want to accomplish over the next year.

These goals can be captured and categorized into objectives for the purpose of strategic planning. Once these projects/objectives are collected and recorded, you can move to the next phase: walking emergency services personnel through strategies.

Work on Objectives and Strategies

Once the objectives are developed, hold a session with the leaders of the organization to create specific strategies. These are the overarching statements of how the leaders desire the emergency services organization to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Many people may need help working through this phase of strategic planning, but helping the leaders discuss how they envision meeting the needs of the public will enable creation without frustration.

An example of an objective from a fire department organization may be to ensure that the community’s environment is as fire-safe as possible. Additionally, the organization may decide to have an all-hazards response program that dovetails into regional response organizations. Borrowing strategies from other organizations’ strategic plans may also help to break down the writer’s block that can occur with strategic planning.

Putting It All Together

Once you have a few established strategies, return to the project list/objectives and place these objectives in the correct area of the proper strategy. Guiding the leaders through this process allows them to understand and verbalize how these objectives meet the strategy or may need refinement.

Once the strategic plan is complete, there will likely be an imbalance based on the desired strategies. At this point, you can refine previously established objectives, which is an iterative process that may take some time. Once the plan is complete and everyone agrees on it, you can now return to the development of the yearly workplan.

While strategic planning may be a little messy and probably not performed in the same way as a strategic planning textbook recommends, you are simultaneously training the command staff as you build the plan. More important, however, is the strategic planning and the buy-in. After all, a plan that sits on the shelf with no action taken on it is just a pretty document.

Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

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