Fire & Life Safety

Important First Step

Auditing your fire prevention strategic plan.

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 Organizations that dusted off an older version of their strategic plan were faced with a decision: was the plan so outdated it was time to start over, or could they have an independent third party audit the plan to determine if modifications could be made to the existing plan?

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 strategic plan.

Audit objectives

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 campus.

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.

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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