Fire & Life Safety

Planning Process

Individuals responsible for fire risk reduction efforts in a school system know there is high value in the planning process; in fact, most would agree that the planning process is as important as the fire mitigation plan itself. Mitigation plans created by a community of stakeholders to reach a consensus have a higher likelihood of reducing fires in schools. Mitigation plans created by a group of interested parties that share a set of common values and visions will be more likely to see measurable results and lower fire incident rates.

These plans will have wide-spread support for obtaining financial, technical and human resources needed to set in place a course of actions identified in the mitigation planning process. An open fire mitigation planning process will help ensure that administrators, staff, teachers, outside contractors and community emergency response partners can all work with the school district to support policies and actions that will lead to a long-term reduction in fire incidents.

So how does a district go about setting in place a systematic process for fire and life safety mitigation planning? There are several questions that need to be reviewed to in order to create an effective plan.

1. Does the mitigation planning process include information related to how and who was involved in the district? This is important so that all interested parties including the broader school community can understand how the plan was developed, how decisions were made and who was involved in the process.

2. Does the fire prevention mitigation plan document how the public was involved in the process during development? Citizens should understand what the district is doing to mitigate fire issues in schools their children attend and with funds they contribute through taxes. Public involvement can also be used as an opportunity to discuss hazards and risks in their schools.

3. Does the district mitigation plan review and incorporate existing plans, studies and technical information? Using existing data and information regarding fire incidents and threats will help identify what existing mitigation efforts have been successful and what efforts may need to be reviewed.

4. Is there a guiding document and schedule to keep the plan current? Most effective fire mitigation plans have a five-year cycle. This timeline allows the district to track progress once the plan is implemented and serves as the timeline for the next update. Progressive districts can break the five-year cycle down into quarterly assigned tasks to make the monitoring and update process easier. The mitigation plan must include the names of departments within the district and outside partners that have specific review and update responsibilities.

5. Does the plan include a description of the type and location of all fire risks within the district? The fire hazard mitigation plan is not complete unless it addresses all the fire risks facing the district. Stakeholders will need to see each risk and how it is to be mitigated within the plan in order for the plan to be accepted by the community.

6. Does the fire mitigation plan include a review of previous incidents and the probability of future similar events? To best understand what must be mitigated in the future, districts must draw from previous events to understand where they are vulnerable. Risks that have been eliminated should be mentioned as well as the process used to mitigate or eliminate that risk.

7. Does the plan document the school districts’ existing polices, programs and resources as well as its abilities to improve these policies and programs? Capabilities and resources change over time, this question will ensure that as changes in policy and programs occur, they are updated in the mitigation plan.

8. Does the mitigation plan include goals and objectives to reduce hazards? Goals and objectives should be developed by all stakeholders to gain support for the document and ensure all groups involved in the planning process support the implementation phase of the mitigation plan.

9. Does the plan identify a range of specific mitigation efforts or projects for each facility within the district? Each building and programs within the building have fire risk. The plan must address what these risks are and how they will be mitigated.

This is not a comprehensive list of questions. However, as the district develops a comprehensive fire mitigation plan for its buildings and programs, any successful mitigation plans will include these questions. Consideration of these questions will help capitalize all available resources to reduce risk related to fire in your schools.

This article originally appeared in the October 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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