Supporting a Public Safety Training Program

Today happens to be National Teacher’s Day.  Be sure to show some appreciation for the teachers and professors who have influenced you and provide quality experiences for your kids.  Also consider expanding the definition of ‘teacher’.  In the public safety professions, we do a lot of training.  Some of us have structured academies, and while others may not, there are a lot of training opportunities provided locally, state-wide, and nationally.  Depending on the size and scope of your agency, you may run your own training program for internal, and potentially external stakeholders.

For a few years, I ran the training and exercise program of a state emergency management agency.  We delivered training programs state-wide to a variety of stakeholders.  We also developed some training programs to address needs which curricula from FEMA or other national providers could not meet.  Fundamentally, delivering training is easy, but properly managing a training program can have challenges.  Some thoughts…

  • Find the right people for the job. While we hired some personnel full time to be trainers, we also used people from elsewhere in the agency, as well as personnel from partner agencies, and hired some as 1099 employees.  There are a lot of highly qualified individuals in public safety – if you don’t know any, just ask, and they will be sure to tell you!  Assuming their qualifications are valid, are the most experienced and knowledgeable people always the best instructors?  Absolutely not.  While they may be subject matter experts, it doesn’t mean they have good presentation skills, much less comfort in doing so.  On the flip side, you might also have someone with little experience who has great delivery skills.  That might be a person to develop.
  • Quality control. When people are delivering training, peek in once in a while.  I traveled around the state regularly, and once in a while would see if one of our courses was being held somewhere along my route.  If I had the time, I would stop in and see how things were going.  While the visit was a surprise, our instructors knew this is something that might happen.  There are a few things this accomplishes.  First of all, it gives you an opportunity to observe and provide feedback.  Everyone can improve, and hopefully they can handle some constructive feedback.  Evaluation, formal or informal, is positive for the instructor and the program.  Look for consistency of practice (see the next bullet point) and professionalism.  On one of my surprise visits, I found an instructor wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.  When I discussed it with him, his response was that he was ‘retired’ (teaching for the agency was a retirement job for him) and that he could do whatever he wanted to.  After that discussion was happy to retire him further. Stopping in also shows support for your instructors and for the program as a whole.  Weather traveling across the state or down the hall, instructors want to know they are being supported.  A big part of support is simply being present.
  • Consistency counts. Training programs should be consistent.  While we might change around some examples or in-class scenarios, training delivered in one location by instructor a should largely match the training delivered another day, in a different location by instructor b.  Coming up through the ranks as a field trainer, I was part of a group that wanted to heavily modify the courses we delivered.  As I rose to management, I realized how detrimental this was.  If improvements are warranted, work with your instructors to integrate those improvements into the course.  Make sure that improvements are in line with best practices, not only in instructional design (remember: content must match objectives), but also with the subject matter.  Consistency not only ensures that all your learners are provided the same information, but also makes your curriculum and instructors more legally sound.  Too often we see instructors ‘going rogue’, thinking that they know a better way.
  • Programs need systems. A big part of building and maintaining a program is having adequate systems in place.  Systems require policies, procedures, and tools.  This is largely the behind the scenes stuff of a training program.  This includes annual curriculum reviews, performance reviews of instructors, selection/hiring and firing of instructors, maintaining instructors (see the next bullet), ordering course materials, maintaining training records, posting a course, course registrations, course cancellations, and so much more.  While it sounds bureaucratic, there should be a piece of paper that covers every major activity, identifying how it’s done, by who, with what approvals, and at what time.  Systems make sure that things aren’t missed, give you a basis of performance to evaluate the system and to train new staff, and help ensure consistency.  Systems contribute to your professionalism and are also good practices for business continuity.  Lots of credit to Cindy who was highly dedicated to establishing systems!
  • Keep instructors engaged. With either a large or small training shop, it’s important to maintain contact with your instructors.  Not just in handing them assignments and shuffling paperwork, but to really engage them.  We established twice a year ‘instructor workshops’, bringing our instructors together for two days.  From a management and administrative perspective, we used some of this time to express appreciation for their work, and provide information on curriculum updates and other information.  We encouraged much of the workshop agenda to be developed by the instructors themselves, with professional development provided by their peers.  This could include instructor development, after action reviews of incidents, case studies, and a variety of other activities and information.

Those are just a few tips and lessons learned.  I’m sure you may also have some to add to the list – and please do!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Equipping

I’ve written previous posts on our preparedness investments and how we can gauge our return on those investments.  Following the POETE model (planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises), I’ve so far covered some considerations for Planning and Organizing.  This piece will focus on identifying our return on investment for Equipping.  Equipment can be anything from a new fire engine, to a generator, a UAV/drone, a radiological detection device, or incident management software.

Equipping is generally a preparedness activity in which we can more easily identify what our actual investment is.  Unlike Planning, which requires varying amounts of time from a number of people, or Organizational efforts which sometimes have rather esoteric costs, when we purchase or maintain equipment, we usually have a receipt in hand.

Functioning in the bureaucracies we do, however, we tend to add complexities.  We form committees to find the best equipment we can, we leverage our own staff time to keep it maintained, and we often have other associated costs, which reflect back on the other POETE elements… at least we should.  In addition to the cost of the equipment itself, let’s look at what the associated costs could be.

Every significant equipment purchase, first of all, should stem from an identified need.  Maybe it’s a critical element of a process, it’s called for in a plan, or the need was identified in an after action report.  Perhaps you are upgrading or expanding application of a certain piece of equipment?  Regardless, your organization must invest some time to ensure the equipment will meet your needs and how it will impact your operations.  This activity, generally referred to as Assessment, if often rolled into the Planning element.  Once we do obtain the equipment, we also need to plan.  We need to ensure the use of the equipment is accounted for in our plans.  Perhaps it’s as simple as adding it to a resource inventory, or as complex as creating processes or procedures that address its use.

Organizationally, you may need to task an individual or even assemble a team which will be responsible for the care and operation of the equipment.  This, logically, leads to Training.  People need to be properly trained in not only the use of the standard use of the equipment, but also the circumstances which it will be used as well as any processes or procedures for use which are unique to your organization.  Consider what degree of proficiency these individuals may need in the operation of the equipment.  Is it just basic operation, or is there a need for something more advanced?  Will recurring training be needed to maintain proficiency or to train additional people in the future?  Will anyone be trained in higher level maintenance of the equipment?

Exercising the equipment, its effectiveness, and the ability of your resources to use the equipment is essential.  Lastly, we often don’t consider the costs of maintaining and storing the equipment.  It may need replacement parts or regular servicing, which even done in-house, has an associated cost.  It may have certain storage requirements to ensure the safety and readiness of the equipment.

Now that we’ve outlined potential costs or investments, how do we know those investments have made a difference for your organization?  To determine this, we must first look at the original need.  What actually defined the need for the equipment?  Was it to replace something older and less reliable?  Was it to enhance response time?  Was it because of safety?  Did the need identify inefficiencies in previous practices and systems?  Did the new equipment meet that need?

To dig further, what was the value of that need?  To identify this, we should look at the metrics associated with that need.  If the new equipment replaced something aging, we can look at the maintenance costs and down time over a certain period of time for the older equipment.  If it was to shorten response time to get a certain capability on-scene, we should be able to identify the time metrics as well as the difference that equipment makes once it is on scene (eg. a fire department which previously had to call mutual aid to get jaws of life on scene, vs purchasing a set of jaws and having them on scene much faster).  We can associate a dollar-value cost to many of these metrics.

Was there any additional value which the equipment brought your organization?  Perhaps the added capability decreased your insurance rates or made you eligible for a particular industry certification?  Are there any indirect cost savings because of the new equipment?  Does the new equipment somehow aid in generating income?

There are many considerations when it comes to any of our investments to ensure that they are sound, responsible, and reasonable.  Often we need to identify the value of an investment before it is made, but we should certainly keep track of that value after the investment as well.

Need help with planning?  Gap analysis?  Resource inventories?  Maybe with the training or exercising associated with new equipment or other preparedness needs? Contact EPS!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC