Know Your Data

At the last two campus fire-safety-related conferences I attended there were similar discussions related to the collection of fire-prevention program data. The information schools were attempting to collect covered a wide range of services, including testing and maintenance of life-safety systems, building inspections, student and staff fire-prevention training, emergency evacuation procedures, pre-plans for emergency responders and incident statistics. One individual taking part in the discussion asked, “Why do we collect this data? There is too much, and we don’t do anything with 90 percent of it.” The general consensus was that most campuses don’t do anything with the data they collect. Instead, it stays in a file until there is a need to prove to an insurance department or regulatory agency that work was completed.

The individual’s viewpoint was not shared by most involved in the discussion. We collect data about fire-safety programs to understand how to improve service, to learn whether our programs have benefits or problems and to determine whether the program is achieving the desired results.

Collect

Fire-prevention staff understand the importance of gathering data related to fire incidents and prevention efforts. What they often lack is accurate data-collection tools or direction from the management team. As a manager, when was the last time you asked for the data to understand the effectiveness of your fire-prevention program? If you were supplied with data, how accurate was it?

Accurate data collection is critical to maintaining the integrity of the fire-prevention program. Before the management team asks for reports and the data to back the information up in the reports, sit down with the individuals who are performing the tasks to be measured. Ask them what information they feel is needed to accurately describe fire-prevention efforts. Organizations routinely collect data that is not useful or improperly collected. There are consequences from improperly collected or poor quality data. These include wasted resources (financial and human), poor policy decisions and an inability to answer management-level questions accurately.

Verify

Any data collected to measure the effectiveness of fire-prevention programs will need to incorporate secondary measures to verify the quality of the data itself. Data quality can be achieved by asking an audit group to collect a second set of data to verify the initial data. This is simply a crosscheck of the original data. To some, this might be taken as a performance evaluation; they will assume the purpose of the crosscheck is related to looking at how well they are doing their jobs. It will be critical to set the tone from the start that the purpose of data collection and verification is tied back to specific program goals and objectives, and as a tool to obtain resources so that more effective fire-prevention services can be delivered. As I mentioned above, including staff in the development of the data-collection process and giving them a voice as data development is started should reduce the fear that the data will be used against them.

What data should be collected to measure fire-safety programs? Campus-based fire-prevention programs have many components; code compliance, public education, plan review and incident response are just a few. Here are a few data points that can be used for each:

Code Compliance

  • Number of code violations found that were corrected
  • Number of violations found per inspection
  • Number of fires prevented due to educational components of inspections
  • Percentage of fires that had code violations

Public Education

  • Changes in knowledge, attitude and belief of fire safety
  • Observed and documented changes in unsafe behaviors
  • Number of people receiving programs
  • Number of target groups

Plan Review

  • Number of corrections needed to gain permit
  • Dollar value of change orders during construction related to code compliance
  • Percentage of time to complete plan review
  • Number of plans reviewed

Utilize

The data you collect should allow you to look for trends within your program. Trend analysis and benchmarking data with your peers will allow you to identify and meet the challenges facing your fire-prevention program.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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