Most of us have probably lived this Simpson's scene during a long car trip, but in case you haven't seen it, it goes like this:Bart:
While this conjures up a few family vacations in my mind, both Bart and Homer's last statements should be one that we all ask as emergency responders: are we there yet? And if we know for sure that we are not, are we ever going to get there?
Of course the first step in answering these questions is answering the previous one that probably hasn't been asked: where is there?
One of the metrics that success experts have found that differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful is something called situational awareness. Not only do the successful know where they're going but they also know where they're at, something the unsuccessful grouping doesn't know. In other words, planning is nice but knowing how to work the plan is another and the important step of working it is still another.
The first step in going down the road of success is defining the current point we're at on that roadway. Like any road trip we want to go on, the first thing we have to know is our starting point in order to define a route to get from Point A to Point B.
The Importance of Operational Assessments
When it comes to our organizations, physically we're not moving. So our "success roadway" is theoretical: we have to define our current level of operations against where we want those operations to be at a point in time in the future.
As emergency responders our recommended/required levels of service are defined by national standards (NFPA, OSHA) and local or state regulations (Department of Health, State Department of Insurance, etc). These agencies have defined where we should be in terms of staffing, equipment, training and other topics (Point B). Our first step if we need to make improvements in our operations is to define where we are at in terms of all of the metrics we are being graded against (Point A).
This is the most crucial step in making any argument for additional funding regardless of the source. So whether we're going after an increased budget or creating grant applications, both of those situations demand that we know where we are at right now, where we are required to be, and most importantly why we need to get there. Without all three pieces of that puzzle in our argument we're not very likely to increase our funding levels through any means, especially through grants.
Grant programs are designed knowing that there are certain deficiencies; what separates the competitive from the non-competitive applications is the why behind the what. The program creators already know that there is a list of things that applicants will need to improve their operations. For instance, they know fire departments need structural bunker gear to protect their personnel. So they already know that they are going to get a lot of applications asking for bunker gear, but those that get the funding not only know that they need it but also how the current gear got in that condition and why it is so important to them that they receive new bunker gear in order to improve their operations.
So you can be a competitive applicant by knowing how many sets of gear are in compliance with NFPA 1971 standards, whether or not you've been able to comply with NFPA 1851 care and maintenance standards, and what risks your personnel face by continuing to use this non-compliant safety equipment. Of course you'll need to know what the standards say to be able to reference them; odds are anyone reviewing your application already knows the applicable standards and if not they will do their homework and read up on them.