Strategic planning for Emergency Service Organizations

CarolinaFireJournal - Chief Bill Jenaway
Chief Bill Jenaway
05/06/2014 -

“Strategic Planning,” “Risk Assessment,” and “Standards of Response Cover” are three techniques you can use within an emergency services organization (ESO) to respond to the ever-changing environment of your organization.

“Strategic Planning” or “Strategic Focus” has been described as a set of concepts, procedures and tools designed to assist leaders and managers in exercising control, coping with change, and developing a basis for decision making (J.M. Bryson, Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations).

The Strategic Focus process can help you answer such questions as:

  • What are the fire department’s objectives for the next five years?
  • Where will our organization be in seven years?
  • What are the fire department’s capital purchasing plans for the next 10 years?
  • What is the fire department’s standard of response cover?

Be Prepared! If you haven’t been asked before, it will only be a matter of time. When the questions are asked, you will need to respond. Your strategic plan should be able to provide the answers.

In recent years there have been several approaches to performance enhancement of both profit and nonprofit organizations. The terminology may vary; however, as long as you are driving the organization to future decision and action to assure organizational success, you are strategically focused and planning.

Creating and implementing a strategic focus helps the organization understand its resources, capabilities and needs. In order to be successful in the development of such a plan, an appropriate planning model is necessary. VFIS has created such a model to assist in this planning process through its education, training and consulting unit, (VFIS-ETC).

The “VFIS Strategic Focus Model” is driven by three components:

  • Organization resource assessment
  • Defined service expectation
  • Priority planning, to enable resources to meet expectations.

By incorporating these components, it creates a disciplined process that develops basic decisions and actions that help structure what your emergency service organization is, does, and why it does it. In essence the process creates decisions about the ESO’s future.

Any ESO strategic focus initiative must start with a risk assessment for all services to be delivered. Today, this means assessing rescue, hazmat, emergency medical and storm management risks as much as fire; and, all must be prioritized against fire and injury prevention which may be more important to the community.

Once the risk assessment is complete and you begin to envision the delivery and support system’s need, you can focus on identifying individualized issues and needs to determine the necessary steps to create a plan, which turns vision into reality.

Your plan can be a derivative of the standard decision making process, employing five basic activities to evaluate organization resource assessment, defined service expectation, and priority planning; and, create an appropriate plan for future service delivery. The five basic activities include:

Identification and Analysis of Key Issues (identifying, developing, creating...)

  • Mission and vision
  • Standard of response cover
  • Identification of roles and responsibilities
  • Goals and objectives
  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).
  • Strategic alliances

Obtain Direction from Key Sources of Input

  • From organizational members
  • From the community leaders
  • From the citizenry
  • From the business community
  • From mutual aid agencies

Development of a Plan for Implementation Over a Defined Time Period

  • Immediate action steps to achieve goals and objectives
  • Long-term plan for implementation

Implementation of a Plan with Responsibilities and Time Frames Involving:

  • Finance
  • Personnel
  • Apparatus
  • Equipment
  • Facilities
  • Processes and procedures

Design and utilize a monitoring method to assure plan’s success.

By identifying and acting on the issues described above you can increase the efficiency of your ESO and plan for future contingencies.

The result of any strategic focus initiative is change. Therefore, any such process must be undertaken by an organization that is read for the change. If the organization is not ready for the change, then conflict can and will exist. As a result, change management practices must be identified and catalogued for reference as the planning process moves forward.

The strategic planning process serves as a single point of collection to coordinate various data points, administrative processes, and planning consideration. This integration of benchmark performance budgetary commitments mission statements, assessment of ESO activities, etc., serves the management team with a summary report of the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization.

“Strategic Focus Model”
Identifying and prioritizing the initiatives critical to an organization’s performance assures long-term ESO health and growth. The output from this process establishes coordinated goals, objectives, and in some cases, action steps dealing with the organization aspects of:

  • Finance,
  • Personnel,
  • Facilities,
  • Apparatus,
  • Equipment,
  • Procedural/process.

These are then consolidated into planning documents, including identified costs, time frames to complete, and responsibilities for completion. The process then identifies different sets of objectives for organizational action.

In conclusion, while we may want it to be “the same old fire service as the glory years of the 60s,” it isn’t. Today, ESOs are complex and dynamic and they must identify what they are doing, why they are doing it and change if current initiatives are ineffective or problematic. The strategic focus process helps you develop the vision of where you want/need to be and how to get there.

William F. Jenaway, Ph.D., CFPS, CFO, CTO is Vice President of VFIS, responsible for their Education, Training and Consulting services. He was the Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year in 2001.
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