Fire & Life Safety
Important First Step
Auditing your fire prevention strategic plan.
- By Mike Halligan
- January 1st, 2014
In previous articles, I’ve written
about the importance of creating a strategic
plan for fire prevention. Based on
the amount of email and phone calls, it’s clear
that over the last year, many organizations
have taken steps to create or revisit their
strategic plan. Organizations that dusted
off an older version of their strategic plan
were faced with a decision: was the plan so outdated it was time
to start over, or could they have an independent third party audit
the plan to determine if modifications could be made to the
Campuses that chose to perform an audit on their existing
plan most often used an outside consultant familiar with fire
prevention programs. The contractor worked with the school to
determine the objectives, scope and approach to the audit. Once
school representatives and the consultant agreed upon the objectives,
scope and approach, the actual audit could be conducted.
It is important to remember, this objective is different than the
objectives and metrics contained within the strategic plan. The
focus of this audit is the applicability and relevance of the existing
strategic plan. Is the plan, as written, still capable of being
used as a guiding document for the fire prevention program?
The result of the audit will determine if the strategic plan can be
modified or if the best approach would be to start writing a new
The objectives of the audit should be to perform an independent
and systematic examination of the fire prevention program
strategic plan. Specifically, forming a conclusion about whether
or not the plan is written in a manner that provides program
guidance based on the mission, vision and institutional expectations
for the fire prevention program. The audit should be able to
determine if the plan still provides that guidance to ensure staff
and resources are utilized efficiently and effectively. Additionally,
the audit can be used to identify methods management staff
can use to improve the monitoring of the effectiveness of the
strategic plan over time.
Audit scope and approach
The approach to the audit must include meeting with key
stakeholders. Internal campus stakeholders would represent the
fire prevention program manager, campus architects, engineers,
student housing, risk management student programming and other
department representatives that are the clients of the fire prevention
program. Externally, stakeholders may represent community fire
prevention officials, state fire officials and contractors that service
The scope of the audit is fairly narrow; the consultant should
focus on the function of the strategic plan. Does the plan as
written, provide a mechanism for effective communication and
measurement of the strategies and objectives of the fire prevention
operation? Further, does the strategic plan identify the service
functions needed to meet the key objectives of the plan? Does the
plan meet the needs of the organization as it relates to minimizing
the risk of fire? Identifying the scoping parameters will insure the
auditor will review the correct key performance indicators to make
a determination as to the condition of the plan.
Upon completion of the objectives, scope and approach, the
audit can begin. Sufficient time will be needed to complete the
audit. The time commitment will vary from school to school based
on program size. Once completed, the auditor should include a
final written document. There should be the standard executive
summary, introduction, statement about the objectives and scope
of the audit, and then a conclusion. The conclusion should state
whether or not the existing strategic plan can be modified and
why, or if, the recommendation is made to start writing a new
strategic plan, what factors led to that conclusion.
Essentially, either recommendation will identify opportunities for
improvement. These improvement findings should be provided and
discussed with applicable management level staff. Their comments
and responses should be included with the final audit document.
If the audit suggests the existing strategic plan can be revised,
each component that needs updating should have key actions identified. The key actions can be used to guide the team assigned to
update the plan. This will ensure the resulting document is modified appropriately and will serve as a strategic plan that provides
guidance to the fire prevention program.
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.
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.