A better method is a planning program in which key company staff participates in a series of planning workshops, meetings and, if desired, exercises. (The third article in this series will address the characteristics of an effective planning process). Your consultant facilitates the process, understanding that the strength of the eventual plan lies in the interactive process that the staff has experienced. It is more time consuming but, in the end, the staff "owns" its plan and is much more likely to implement it competently in the event of an emergency.
Your requirements will drive the planner's functions. Will he be a program manager, responsible for ensuring the program stays on track and is completed within budget and the time allocated? (How many firms have hired planners, only to find out the process drags on and on?). Will the planner serve as your voice within the organization? How well can the planner act as a conduit of information between senior and subordinate divisions within your company? Do you expect this person to be a subject matter technical expert in certain areas? What levels of latitude and freedom will you allow your planner within your organization? A good planner makes the effort to understand organizational culture and, to a degree, becomes a part of the organization during his tenure.
As you develop your requirements and search for a planner, it is not uncommon that your requirements may change. Watch as you move through the selection process to see how your prospective consultants analyze your existing plans and programs. An experienced planner will be able to assess your organization's programs, help you articulate your requirements, and suggest options available. And, perhaps most importantly, an honest planner will not have you sign up for more than you need.
Qualifications versus Experience:
"A highly qualified expert does not always a good planner make."
Often, the first screening criterion used in selecting a preparedness planner is technical qualifications. Corporate security officials tend to look for planners that "look like themselves." A former police detective now working as a security director may be more comfortable with a former local law enforcement official. A building's fire safety director may be more likely to hire a retired battalion fire chief.
While it may seem to make sense to select a consultant that understands your language, an effective emergency preparedness planner must have a broad view to effectively manage all of the challenges associated with planning for often complex and diverse organizations. In a sense, he must be "all things to all people." An initial screening should be based on his planning and operational experience, as well as any functionally-specific technical qualifications. Has the person you are considering hiring had a broad range of planning experiences? Has he ever developed operational plans that he had to implement? How often has he developed and delivered operational exercises? Have the exercises addressed tactical-level training or management-level decision-making? Has he ever been a resource manager? A fiscal manager? A sound planner does not necessarily need to know how to operate a specific piece of equipment, but he must be able to understand its capabilities and limitations and where it fits into the bigger picture.
A second mistake often made in hiring a planner is basing his planning qualifications on his "contacts." It is no secret that business is often rewarded based on who knows who; private corporations, cities, counties and states are apt to award work locally. It seems to make good sense to hire someone who is familiar with the operating environment. However, you should not overlook the benefits of "outside" consultants, who have no specific affiliation with organizations (public or private) from the local area and are able to bring fresh perspectives and objectivity to the process. They do not carry the burden, perceived or real, of having been affiliated with one emergency response agency or another. A competent planner will quickly establish necessary contacts in the area and a competent planning company will ensure it builds planning teams with knowledge of local issues. Contacts are important but objectivity is paramount.
Who do you want hanging around your organization?