Training Facility Planning, Avoid The BIG Mistake

So you want to build a Police or Firefighter Training Facility (maybe even a Combined Regional Partnership). You’ve identified several potential locations. The chief is on board. You have strong support from the fire or police union (or both). The city manager has expressed optimism for the project. Congratulations you’re “almost” there. At this point the usual next step is to call over to the facilities department and purchasing and tell them you need an RFP for architectural master plan design services. BIG Mistake. Let me tell you why.

Architectural and Engineering (A&E) firms can provide the technical data for a master design plan and provide some preliminary construction cost estimates. They may even offer to help with your needs assessment (If you do all the work and tell them what you need.)  All of these are eventually going to be important, however there is still considerable work to be completed before the project gets to this level of detail. The architectural and engineering aspect of the training center project is only part of the equation. Important yes, but secondary to the Strategic Business Plan.

The Full Planning Equation

A fully developed and articulated Strategic Business Plan delivers the full equation: everything that is needed to launch the training center project moving in a focused direction. Prior to the A&E phase the Strategic Business Plan provides answers and establishes the framework for the long-term success of the training center project and its equality important long-term sustainability.

In essence, a Strategic Business Plan should answer every question that elected officials or grant providers are likely to ask. Such as:

  • Who will use the training center?
  • What training will the center provide?
  • What will it cost to operate the facility annually?
  • In the case of multiple partners, how will the center be managed?
  • What are the training facility’s costs and practical benefits?
  • Should the facility be open to outside users in order to generate revenues?
  • What private, local, state or federal funds are available?
  • What is the project funding strategy?

Specific Key Objectives

A comprehensive business plan can facilitate a broad range of goals in building a training center. But most importantly, a plan is crucial to achieving the following Specific Key Objectives:

  • What is the training center project’s funding source?
  • What is the plan for the Training Center’s sustainability?
  • How much will it cost to operate annually
    Is there an on-going (sustainable) source of money
  • Why should the Training Center be funded over other projects?
    • Be specific
    • Be measureable
    • Be attainable
    • Be realistic
  • What problem does it solve?
  • Why build it in the first place?
    • Why “Not continue with the way we’ve always trained!”
  • How will the training center enhance operational efficiency?
  • How will the training center improve the ISO rating?
  • Will the training center facilitate mandated training that is currently being performed but at a less and satisfactory level or not being performed at all?

You’re Not There Yet

Congratulations your colleagues would be envious. However, you still may be very far away from turning the training center project into a reality. The project must be well justified, with strong verification by the public safety department. Senior executive staff and elected officials must be in full support of the project. The only way to accomplish full buy-in from all decision makers is to have a well planned, organized and justifiable strategic business plan.

A Seven-Step Process

The Interact Business Group advocates a Strategic Business Plan Seven-Step Process to planning for a new training facility. Ultimately, without a comprehensive cost management analysis, elected officials and grant providers are reluctant to open the money coffers for the project advancement. There is competition for that dollar, and a strategic business plan gives departments an extra edge when applying for limited funding.
Provide The Justification to Say “YES”
Key decision makers seldom ignore or diminish the need for properly trained personnel. Nor do they fail to understand the need for safe and efficient training facilities. In many cases what they need the most is a solid reason to say “YES”

 


Additional Resources On this Topic

Here are several additional ways to stay connected and informed with Public Safety Training:
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Public Safety Training Newsletter – a monthly e-newsletter covering the top news, events and announcements in Public Safety Training. Click here and sign-up (lower right) to read the current issue and get updates.
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Responder Gateway – A full featured First Responder news and resource hub. One Place, One Stop, One Source, Visit here and receive daily or weekly fire service or law enforcement news events, alerts or important announcements.
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Bill Booth Blog – Timely opinions and articles, on issues and comments about public safety training center management, funding and operations. Click here to read and get updates.

How To Begin Planning For A Police or Firefighter Training Center

Start With The End In Mind

That is a key point to keep in mind when planning for a new police, fire or combined training facility. Focus not just on what you need today, but also on your future needs.  Because of the costs involved, a new police or firefighter facility will likely have to service your department for twenty, thirty or even fifty years down the road. Decisions made in this critical early planning stage will impact the generations that come after you. Sounds a little dramatic, but its so very very true.

Take your time and get the early phase planning right

In the fast-changing world of public safety, more and more public safety departments are finding that their current training facilities are outdated and sorely lacking in the equipment, technology and props needed to adequately train their growing numbers of police and firefighters. Both within departments themselves and within the communities they serve, most people recognize the need for highly trained professionals that serve in their community. But while the need is easily acknowledged, figuring out how to plan and ultimately finding funding for a new or refurbished facility is often daunting for most public safety departments.

Early stage planning is essential. Any new business venture is enhanced by a straightforward, well-researched plan — and police and fire training centers are no exception. With any new venture in the private sector, a small business startup, new product release, or facility expansion the approving authority (such as a board of directors or a bank) wants to see a plan. They will,“What are you going to do with the money?”

The common term used in the private sector is “Business Plan.” I think it is equally appropriately used when developing or enhancing a public safety or OSHA training center. Many of the elements of a training center are similar to starting a business or launching a project. Here are some similar questions that pertain to both a public safety department and private industry:

  • What will it cost to build? (Construction costs)
  • What will it cost to operate? (Annual Operations and Maintenance Costs)
  • Who is going to use it? (Needs Assessment)
  • What facilities are needed? (Building type, Classrooms, Props)
  • Why build it? (Cost justification)

Using the private sector analogy again, a strong, well-conceived Business Plan answers the following questions: How, What, Where, When, Why. For the public sector, such as a   police, fire or any public safety department, there are long-term consequences to a safe, secure and accessible training center project. As mentioned above, the project being planned today will have impact for many future generations.   For this reason the word “Strategic” needs to be added. By definition – Strategic means

“Important or essential in relation to a plan of action” and “Highly important to an intended objective.”

Training Center Strategic Business Plan

In developing a Strategic Business Plan for the development of a police, fire or public safety training center, it is imperative to fully assess the needs of the department (needs assessment) and other involved entities (potential partner agencies), cost of building (construction costs) and in the case of maintaining the facility (annual operations costs). Departments also need to look to the future, mapping out their expected growth and the training requirements that will accompany that expansion (this is the “strategic” element).

The Interact Business Group specializes in delivering the “full equation” with its comprehensive Strategic Business Plan. A solid strategic business plan assesses current and future needs, identifies costs and synergies and culminates with a clear funding objective. It becomes the tool that allows stakeholders (key decision makers) to say “YES.” And once your project is underway, it severs as a blueprint for success.

Think Like a Businessman

Early stage planning is absolutely essential. Think of the training center project like a businessman who is starting a new venture. The basic elements are the same: cost to build, cost to operate, who will use it, what facilities are needed, and finally why build it in the first place. Keep these in mind. The future depends on it!


Additional Resources On This Topic

Here are several additional ways to stay connected and informed with Public Safety Training:

LinkedIn Group – Public Safety Training Center Planning
Public Safety Training Newsletter – a monthly e-newsletter covering the top news, events and announcements in Public Safety Training. Click here and sign-up (lower right) to read the current issue and get updates.
Responder Gateway – A full featured First Responder news and resource hub. One Place, One Stop, One Source, Visit here and receive daily or weekly fire service or law enforcement news events, alerts or important announcements.
Bill Booth Blog – Timely opinions and articles, on issues and comments about public safety training center management, funding and operations. Click here to read and get updates.

Revenue Ideas For Public Safety Training Centers

Given the realities of funding the operation of a full-service public safety training center, can be challenging. Interact Business Group has identified several examples of how police or fire training center managers can become “entrepreneurial” in their approach to funding their training center.

Although current revenue models may be working well for traditional college credit and degree programs geared toward an academic student population, those strategies might not be sufficient to support the additional funding necessary to operate a facility that caters to an entirely different audience such as policeman, firefighters or volunteers. For example, many public safety agencies often prefer to conduct their training very early in the morning, late at night, or on weekends.

Revenue Generating Examples

Following are several examples of ways to generate revenue or reduce operating costs at a public safety training center.

  1. Offer a wide range of basic courses geared toward meeting the specific needs of the region and that match your training centers unique facilities, perhaps large classrooms or a large open drill ground. For example Leadership Classes such as:
      1. Strategies & Tactics
      2. Health & Safety Officer
      3. Training Officer Seminars
      4. Large scale events (many participates) gatherings. Such as 5K races, or other community events.
  2. Consider renting your facility to agencies that may have complementary training curriculums. For example you may currently be holding hazardous materials training and trench rescue. Private companies or government agencies may have similar training needs. Think: high raise construction, building inspection, truck fleets with drivers training needs.
    1. Utility company’s
    2. Construction company’s
    3. Hospitals
    4. Trucking fleets
  3. Form a partnership with a state or national organization such as the Leadership Program from the International Chiefs of Police (IACP) or the Company Officers program from the International Fire Chiefs (IFC). Typically, these are one-day seminars geared towards leadership. In most cases the classes may be offered for free however a small “facility use fee” say $20 to $30 per attendee would be reasonable.
  4. Offer classes that stress training of a particular skill or “how to” classes to operate equipment. Students may attend the class at no charge however the class may be sponsored by the vendor whose equipment is being used or demonstrated. Vendors may sponsor a breakfast, lunch, or afternoon break food to reduce costs of the event.
  5. Provide full food services on site for a fee. This added benefit to attendees is quite helpful for attracting participants; they appreciate the convenience of being able to eat at the facility rather than having to go off site for their meals.
  6. If you have a regional or county training center consider different levels of fee structure. For example, establish different rates (training course and facility rental) for in-county and out-of-county agencies, or another fee structure for private industry

These are but a few ways police and fire training center managers have found ways to generate revenue for their facilities.

Any Other Ideas That Are Working For You, Let Us Know

Do you have any examples? Please share what you are doing with others in the Leave A Reply box below.

 


Here are several additional ways to stay connected and informed with Public Safety Training:

  • LinkedIn Group – Public Safety Training Center Planning, click here to join
  • Public Safety Training Newsletter – a monthly e-newsletter covering the top news, events and announcements in Public Safety Training. Click here and sign-up (lower right) to read the current issue and get updates.
  • Responder Gateway – A full featured First Responder news and resource hub. One Place, One Stop, One Source, Visit here and receive daily or weekly fire service or law enforcement news events, alerts or important announcements.
  • Bill Booth Blog – Timely opinions and articles, on issues and comments about public safety training center management, funding and operations. Click here to read and get updates.

Public Safety Departments and College Partnerships

Over the past 15 years collaboration between polLCCC PSTI Dedication-08_021ice, fire departments and community colleges to share or co-locate training centers has had hot and cold periods. In 1998 the Regional Public Safety Training Center Washoe County Nevada was a joint effort between multiple agencies including the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, City of Reno, City of Sparks, and Truckee Meadows Community College. In 2003 Luzerne Community College began work on a multi agency, Public Safety Training Institute. Universities also remain a strong partner with public safety training schools like the University of West Virginia State Fire Academy that was formed in 1974 and in 2003 undated its training facilities at Jackson’s Mill to accommodate increased demand.

Since the economic down turn of 2008 collaboration efforts has turned hot once again. In a recent national bench DSC00042marking survey undertaking by IBG the “trend” of, merging public safety agencies and colleges has yielded significant improvement to training delivery, curriculum development teamwork, and more important open and cooperative communication between all groups.

In February 2012, IBG initiated a benchmarking effort to “validate the possible” by researching and identifying community colleges that excel in providing public safety training programs to not only their students but also provide training and/or training facilities to agencies within their regional. In order for a Community College to be selected for benchmarking it had to meet certain criteria. First, it must serve multiple disciplines within the public safety/public services fields (i.e. not just police and fire). Second, it must provide a wide range of training programs and curriculum that extend beyond the typical (i.e. shooting range, live fire training) public safety offerings.  Third, it must be affiliated with a two-year or four-year college. IBG closely examined the physical attributes, partnerships and affiliations, programs and curriculums, and management practices of these exceptional training centers. Benchmarking Information Sheets were prepared for each one. The sheets provide insight in a quick read format into what is being done well and what could be improved or changed at these facilities. Based on experience and familiarity with training centers across the nation, IBG identified five of them that are nationally-recognized as training centers of excellence:

  1. Luzerne County Community College Public Safety Training Institute
  2. Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy
  3. Tarrant County College Public Safety Institute
  4. Treasure Coast Public Safety Training Complex
  5. Washoe County Regional Public Safety Training Center

Today many joint training center partnerships are underway or being formed. Most recently reported was the tentative agreement (details still being worked out) between Madison College and the Madison Fire Department in Madison WI. Other very successful partnerships between colleges and public agencies are reported at the Flatrock Training Center near Denver, Rouge Community College near Medford, OR provide both criminal justice and Emergency Fire Services curriculums that local agencies find very beneficial.

Community colleges play an integral role in public safety training – after all, their goal is to excel at education. Depending on the partnership structure, community colleges can provide something as simple as a steady stream of students or as complex as full management of training center operations. Increasingly, departments are partnering with community colleges. The result is that each benefits exponentially from the skills of the others. Partnerships also enhance both the numbers and the diversity of the student population. Some may be full-time college students, others working firefighters or law enforcement officers.

There are probably as many ways to structure partnerships between community colleges and public agencies as there are training centers in the country. In 2013 and for the foreseeable future partnerships will remain essential and will continue to grow. If a department is considering the development or modification of a training center a college the same partnerships should be at the top of any priority list.

Some of the Best Training Public Safety Facilities

These facilities are not the newest or the most expensive, but they are all stand-outs for excellence in planning and execution. They are worth looking at and learning from before beginning your Training Center Business Plan to plan or build a police or fire new training center.

Click on the name of each school for their Benchmaked Report:

 
Luzerne County Community College, Public Safety Training Institute
Nanticoke, Pennsylvania
 
Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy
Glenview, Illinois
 
Tarrant County College Public Safety Institute
Fort Worth, Texas
 
Treasure Coast Public Safety Training Complex
Ft. Pierce, Florida
 
Washoe County Regional Public Safety Training Center
Washoe County, Nevada