Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Strategic Planning for Fire Safety

Fire Safety

PHOTO COURTESY OF SEBASTIAAN TER BURG

There is no doubt that higher education is one of the most visible and regulated concerns in the world today. As campuses become more complex and the lines between academic pursuit, research and private companies are erased, it can be expected — as these boundaries evaporate — that regulatory scrutiny will increase. Fiscal scrutiny and ethics, as well as the health and safety of people and the environment, are just a few of the areas where the internal and external communities of a campus will focus their sights and demand compliance with various industry standards. Compliance with numerous regulations and standards will be a challenge unless specific institutional and departmental strategies are in place.

Strategic Planning for Higher Education

If you type “strategic plan higher education” into a web search, you’ll see that almost every academic institution will be listed in the results. On an institutional level, there is always a strategic plan. This is the plan that builds commitment to a shared vision by identifying goals, the tactics to achieve those goals, the resources needed to support the goals and the metrics to measure progress. Some institutions are better at defining clear vision, mission and values statements, which are the cornerstones for all strategic plans.

Each department within an institution must ensure that its strategic plan is aligned with the principles identified in the vision and mission of the institution. Review well-written institutional plans and you will see that there is a singular framework for all the plans that can support and sustain each other. There is a centralized office that has stewardship over all the plans. While each functional group may be responsible for developing its individual plan, the central office will review all plans to foster interdepartmental links that support the plans of other divisions within the institution.

Common to all well-written strategic plans is a set of measurements that demonstrate progress toward the goals identified by the department. There is also a commitment to evaluate the plan, goals and measures through a collaborative, open process. Central administration and departments who are actively engaged in implementing the plan should review plans. The review process should take place annually and plans should be updated as needed. When there is a change in the leadership of a department or division, the new director — in collaboration with the staff of the division — should reaffirm the strategic plan or make revisions as needed. The last element of a healthy strategic plan involves linking it to periodic external programmatic reviews. Contracting with individuals outside the institution will provide validation of the plan or identify areas that need revision.

Planning for Fire Prevention

For campus fire prevention programs, a strategic plan will contain several elements. As mentioned earlier, within a strategic plan for fire prevention there will be a section dedicated to the vision and mission of the program. Many fire prevention plans will list the vision as a department that ensures institutional compliance with fire and life safety requirements. The mission is often written as a statement: “To provide assistance to all institutional groups in order to minimize the risk of fire and its impacts on campus and the community.”

Most strategic plans also include an overview of the fire prevention office. This overview is just a short executive summary of the functions of the program as well as a scan of external and internal factors that influence the current and future activities of the program.

The next element in the plan will be a discussion related to strategic focus areas. Focus areas identify the core components or broad-based goals of the program. Many fire prevention programs refer to these goals as the “three Es” — education, engineering and enforcement.

Defining the Plan Elements

Here is an example of a goal statement for education: “Keep the university community aware of the efforts they can take on an individual, departmental and institutional level to reduce the risk of fire and events that impact life safety.”

This goal statement would then be followed with specific objectives to achieve that goal. For education, specific objectives might include (please note that this is not a comprehensive list):

  • Provide emergency evacuation training to departments
  • Deliver annual fire extinguisher training to facilities shops
  • Conduct risk reduction training in high-risk occupancy groups

Each objective will then have specific measurable actions. These will serve as the benchmarks for the scorecard. Again, using the goal of education, the measurable tasks would include:

  • All assembly occupancies will receive annual training on emergency evacuation procedures
  • Assembly occupancies will have semi-annual emergency evacuation drills.

Additional information related to each objective can contain references to code requirements, the staff member assigned responsibility for the task and an indicator of the percentage of the task completed.

Measure the Plan’s Progress

Once all goals and objectives are written there will be a need to build tools to measure progress. There will also be a need to collect data as staff perform each task and tie the information back to a dashboard for all levels to view. This holds staff and management accountable for the elements within the strategic plan.

Creating a process to collect this information can be daunting. Not all activities are easily collected and measured. Data for the previous example listed might include:

  • Number of people trained. A roster will need to be kept for each training class offered.
  • Hours of staff time dedicated to training. Actual class time and prep time will need to be tracked.
  • Number of individuals certified in evacuation procedures. This is different than the number of people trained; here you will measure how effective the training program was based on the number of individuals passing a test and demonstrating a mastery of the information provided.

As you can see, each objective will have several measures. To help decide what to measure, consider what information is needed to show the objective is being accomplished. It might be hours spent on a task, lower alarm rates, fewer maintenance issues or, as in the example, time spent on program delivery.

Find the Help You Need

For campus fire prevention programs, the process involved in writing a strategic plan can consume a large amount of time. Some campuses may have internal departments or staff members who can assist units with development of their plans. Most schools don’t have access to this level of institutional support, however, and must find resources internal to the department or partner with consultants to create the plan.

Whichever option (internal staff or external consultant) is chosen, make sure the team has the experience needed to write a strategic plan. The individuals charged with plan creation must understand what a fire prevention program is and what services are to be provided, but also how to measure each service element.

They must also have the time needed to write the plan. Strategic plans take time to create. There will be a lead person who writes the plan. This person will need to be able to meet with staff for input as well as management-level staff for review of each element within the plan. Not including both might result in a plan that is not supported by staff or accepted by management.

PLANS IN PLACE

Samples of fire and life safety plans in place on campuses of colleges and universities across the country available for review on the internet include those listed here.

Colgate University
Hamilton, NY
Office/Dept.: Campus Safety
Fire Safety Plan

Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX
Office/Dept.: Office of Police and Risk Management
Fire Safety

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI
Office/Dept.: Occupational Safety & Environmental Health
Fire Safety

Thomas Jefferson University
Philadelphia, PA
Office/Dept.: Environmental Health & Safety
Internal Disaster Fire Plan

Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY
Office/Dept.: Environmental Health & Safety
Fire Safety and Evacuation Plan

Barnard College
New York, NY
Office/Dept.: Public Safety
Fire Safety Policy

The University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA
Office/Dept.: Environmental Health & Safety
Fire Prevention Program
www.ehs.uci.edu/programs/fire/fireprog.html

Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH
Office/Dept.: Environmental Health & Safety
Fire Safety & Emergency Evacuation

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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