Public safety managers are responsible for making decisions that affect the safety of citizens, cities, and other organizations. To make good decisions, public safety managers must clearly understand the situation they are facing. They need to consider all possible scenarios and determine which course of action will be most beneficial for their organization.
They must also consider the consequences of their decision. Public safety managers must be able to anticipate how their actions will affect others, and themselves, in the future.
Planning helps public safety managers gather all the necessary information before they make important decisions. It supports an organized process that includes analyzing data, identifying problems, and creating solutions based on evidence-based practices rather than assumptions about what works best for an organization or community.
Relationship between planning and decision-making
Decision-making and planning are two fundamental activities of any organization. Planning is the activity of defining goals, objectives, and strategies that an organization will use to achieve its mission. The purpose of planning is to identify the tasks required to reach a specific goal or objective and to organize these tasks into a plan that appropriate people and resources can execute at the right time.
Decision-making involves choosing between alternatives when they are not equally attractive or one superior to the other. It consists of choosing between several courses of action with some positive aspects but none with all the desirable ones. Decisions may be made by one person or a group of people with input from others in the organization. Decision-making is often necessary when there are no obvious answers or solutions to the organization’s problems or issues.
Planning helps decision-makers make better decisions because it provides them with more information about what has happened in the past (historical data), what is happening now (current data), and how things might change in the future (forecasts). When used effectively, this information can help decision-makers identify potential problems before they occur so they can take steps to prevent them.
What kinds of decisions are public safety managers responsible for?
Public safety managers are responsible for making a variety of decisions, including:
- Strategic decisions
These are long-term decisions that affect the entire organization. For example, public safety managers may make strategic decisions about purchasing new equipment or restructuring departments.
- Tactical decisions
These are short-term actions taken to achieve a specific objective in a limited time. For example, tactical decisions might involve deploying officers to respond to an emergency call or deciding which crimes to investigate first.
- Operational-level decisions
These actions must be taken to ensure the department runs smoothly. Operational-level decisions include tasks such as writing policies and assigning shifts.
Why are public safety decisions complex?
The complexity of public safety decision-making can be traced to the following factors:
- Multiple stakeholders
Public safety professionals are often forced to make decisions that affect more than one stakeholder group, such as government officials, citizens, victims, and offenders.
- Diverse perspectives
Public safety decisions are complicated because there are many perspectives on what is best for the public. The public includes the general public, special interest groups, and even other levels of government.
The general public’s perspective is often characterized by a lack of information about the issue at hand and a desire to have someone else make decisions for them. Special interest groups often want to influence the outcome in their favor, whether or not they have good reasons for doing so. Other levels of government may want to influence local decisions because they believe their policies are better than those formed locally or because they perceive an opportunity to expand their authority over another entity.
This complexity is further exacerbated by disagreements among experts about how best to solve public safety problems, such as terrorism, gun control, crime, or natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.
- Multiple goals
Public safety professionals must consider multiple goals, such as crime prevention, rehabilitation, victim satisfaction, and cost-effectiveness.
- Ambiguity and uncertainty
Public safety decisions often involve ambiguities and uncertainties, which can lead to many possible outcomes. For example, police officers must decide whether to shoot when confronting a suspect. This decision has complex consequences that may be difficult to predict. The officer may be injured or even killed. The suspect may be injured or killed—or perhaps neither will be harmed.
Furthermore, the police department could face discipline if it is determined that the officer acted inappropriately in this situation. Because of these uncertainties, individuals often employ heuristics as they make decisions under uncertainty (for example, they base their decisions on past experiences). However, these heuristics are often flawed because they rely on stereotypes and assumptions about what others will do in a given situation.
- Limited resources
Public safety professionals are limited by their budget, equipment, staff, and other resources available at any time. These limitations force them to make tradeoffs between different strategies or policies that will best meet their needs at the time.
- Public safety is complex
Public safety is a complex field with many moving parts, like technology, policy, law enforcement tactics, and training methodologies—all of which will continue to evolve as they adapt to new conditions in society (for example, terrorism threat levels).
In addition to this complexity within public safety itself, there’s also the challenge of understanding how these forces interact across sectors, like criminal justice agencies or emergency response teams.
Key planning elements that support decision-making in public safety
Public safety leaders need to consider several key planning elements when making decisions about public safety. These elements include:
A vision is the future you see for your organization. It is an inspiring foundation that describes your organization’s appearance when it achieves its goals. Your vision should be based on the mission and values of your organization and should be broad enough to give direction but specific enough to provide a target.
A vision statement is a brief, concise, and often inspirational description of what the organization hopes to accomplish. It can include short-term and long-term objectives and usually consists of a statement of purpose. Vision statements are intended to guide decision-making, not necessarily dictate it. A vision statement provides a general direction for the future while leaving open the specific means by which that vision will be achieved.
The mission is the why. It is the reason you are doing what you are doing. It is the purpose of your work as a public safety professional, and it should be stated in a way that allows others to understand why they should support your efforts.
The mission statement is often used interchangeably with the vision statement, but they are different. A mission statement defines what an organization does or wants to do, while a vision statement describes where it wants to go. A good mission statement should answer these questions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Who are we doing it for?
- Short-term goals and objectives
For each emergency management plan component, policymakers establish short-term goals and objectives at the local, state, or federal level. They reflect on what needs to be accomplished during the first 72 hours following an incident’s initiation. The short-term goal may be as simple as “provide shelter from windstorms” or more complex as “minimize loss of life”. The short-term objective describes how this goal will be achieved. For example, a short-term aim of providing shelter from windstorms might read: “establish temporary shelters for evacuees.”
- Long-term goals and objectives
Long-term goals and objectives encompass an entire disaster cycle. They describe what needs to be accomplished over several months or even years. For example, one long-term goal might be “rebuild public infrastructure damaged during the disaster.” A long-term objective might specify how this goal will be achieved: “conduct structural assessments of public buildings damaged by the incident.” These long-term goals and objectives should align with state and federal policies and procedures so they can be efficiently implemented once they are needed.
- Strategic plan
A strategic plan is a blueprint for achieving organizational short and long-term objectives over a defined period. It is essential because it provides direction for decision-making and enables an organization to allocate resources where they will significantly impact achieving goals. A strategic plan should identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure an organization’s performance against its mission and vision statements.
A scorecard is a list of questions or metrics used to determine success or failure during an incident. It can monitor progress and make adjustments as needed during an event response. Scorecards have been used for years by businesses to measure performance. They are also being used today by emergency managers and others working in public safety fields such as healthcare, law enforcement, firefighting, and more.
How planning influences decision-making in public safety
Various forms of planning affect how public safety professionals carry out their duties.
A goal-driven approach to operational planning in public safety agencies can help guide decisions on resource allocation and the deployment of personnel and equipment. The primary function of operational planning is to support decision-making by providing information on the current state of events or conditions (which might include potential threats or hazards) within or surrounding an organization’s jurisdiction or area of responsibility. Operational plans are also used as:
- Part of an agency’s emergency preparedness program
- Part of an integrated approach for managing incidents
- A source for training exercises
- A communications tool
- An audit tool for tracking incident response performance over time
Tactical planning is a critical component of any emergency event, and it can be challenging to understand how it fits into the broader decision-making process. Tactical planning influences decisions such as:
- Developing a timeline
Planning can influence decision-making when leaders develop a timeline and action plan for each team member involved in the response efforts. This could include those who will work directly on the scene and those whose responsibilities are off-site, such as incident command staff or media liaisons.
- Identifying the required resources
Planning helps decision-makers identify what resources are needed from external agencies and begin coordinating with them before any incidents occur (if possible). It’s also helpful when identifying potential partners within their organization who have experience with similar situations.
- Prioritizing tasks by importance
Planning helps decision-makers know which tasks to skip if limited time forces them to prioritize other issues first. It also helps them track the timelines so they know when each task needs to be completed so everyone can stay on track with their assigned duties. This includes details about what happens after each step has been completed successfully (for example, If [task] goes well, then [action]. If not, then [alternate action]).
Deployment planning is the process used to determine how an agency will respond to a call for service. Deployment plans are part of the decision-making process when deciding what resources are needed and which tactics to employ to ensure that the incident is handled correctly. Ideally, these plans should include detailed information about:
- How many officers or other personnel will be needed at an incident
- Who will make up those teams (who has primary responsibility)
- What equipment they need to bring with them (this might include weapons, body armor, and medical supplies)
- What type of vehicles they should drive
Formal learning can help public safety managers make better decisions
The world of public safety is a complex one. It’s a world where many factors can lead to the need to make critical decisions. One of the essential things in this field is ensuring making the right decision at the right time. That’s why it’s so important that professionals have the proper training and education.
One of the most effective ways to do this is by getting a diploma in Public Safety, such as the one offered at Wilfrid Laurier University This will give public safety managers the knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions about how best to handle situations involving public safety.
Planning is a vital component of public safety. It provides direction, structure, and focus to an organization’s efforts. It also supports decision-making in public safety organizations by providing the necessary information. The process of planning helps determine what information needs to be gathered and analyzed before making a decision. Public safety managers can also use planning to ensure they have considered all possible options before choosing their program or service.
As a result of this process, they are more likely to make good decisions that will benefit their organization.