As we begin the New Year, we tend to be positive and focus on the future of the year ahead. Some do this in both their personal life and professional life. The best way an organization can address the changing environment is through strategic planning. Similar to our personal lives, we tend to think of the future when forced by outside influences. Most organizations tend to go through a strategic planning process when driven by a governing body, external threats or a new boss.
As fire service professionals it is important we have a plan for the future now and not wait until we have it forced upon us as a means to address a problem facing our fire department. One of the greatest benefits of going through a strategic planning process is to enable us to learn to think strategically. We learn to think in the future and work backwards in an analytical fashion to address future issues we may face. This is an important benefit in the public sector. We become better equipped, trained, and prepared to deal with problems before they occur. For example, fire departments in the past should have been thinking strategically to deliver EMS or hazardous material response services and more recently thinking how to address our terrorism threats. We need the same approach to fire prevention.
There are many benefits to thinking strategically, especially in the management of the fire prevention division. Strategic planning differs from operation planning. Operation planning is the how and strategic planning is the what. Development of a fire prevention strategic plan will resolve issues facing the fire prevention bureau and project a means to address them. Strategic planning creates synergy by pushing everyone. The end result of the process will utilize the department's resources to the fullest while communicating the goals and strategies. Conducting a strategic plan is not easy or a quick fix. The process should not be undertaken if there is not support from top management. Upper management must champion the strategic planning effort and provide a recognized commitment for implementation of the finished product. The strategic plan development will include a cross section of fire prevention staff with representation from each fire prevention discipline. The number of the participants will vary depending on the size of the organization. Whomever participates, they must be permitted to discuss issues open and honestly without criticism from other team members.
The organization must have the capability to collect pertinent strategic planning data for discussion. The data will assist in the identification of future issues. The data does not have to be available during the first strategic planning meeting but there needs to be a mechanism to further explore a potential issue facing the fire prevention division. You may recall the last article Fire Investigations and Their Role in Prevention which discussed the importance of using the data obtained from fire investigations for fire prevention program development. This is only one example of data collection. Does your fire prevention division know all of the inspectable occupancies? What is the most frequent fire violations cited? How many fire deaths have you had and who were the victims? Where are your high dollar loss fires occurring?
Four Steps for the Planning Process
There are a number of strategic planning models, but most of them have common components.