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Cost Reduction Ideas For Police and Fire Training

Last week a host of creative ideas and strategies were exchanged, along with many first hand experiences on how public safety training centers are generating funds to improve training operations, improve technologies, and prepare for the eventual unexpected expenses that come with facility operations. This took place as an education session we hosted at the International Law Enforcement Education and Training Associations’ annual conference (www.ileeta.org). The session was titled “Revenue Ideas for Public Safety Training Centers,” and was attended by training center managers and instructors. Some valuable, insightful, information was exchanged and we want to share it with you here.

Before outlining several key takeaways from the session, below are the two key training center cost and expense baseline thoughts.

When considering funding for a new public safety training facility there are TWO Expense Groups:

#1 – Money for Construction

  • Land Cost (acre is around the size of a football field)
  • Design Cost (10% of construction)
  • Other Costs, such as permitting, (10% of construction)
  • Cost for actual construction (this can vary depending on depending on location)

#2 – Annual Operations and Maintenance (O&M)

  • Keep the lights on, pay the utility bills
  • Training consumable costs, such as shooting range air ventilation, live fire burn props
  • Specialized training equipment warranty programs
  • Unexpected damage cost – barrier walls, leaking roof
  • Future Improvements
  • “Capital Improvement Fund” for equipment replacement/modernization

Both Expense Groups are important, however many times the O&M costs are overlooked or misunderstood in the early stages of planning. At ILEETA the concentration was on the O&M Spending Pot.

The cost to operate a police or fire training center is often difficult for departments to determine. For example:

  • How many staff members or sub-contractors are needed to keep a training center operational and running efficiently?
  • What are the estimated yearly expenses for necessities such as electricity, water, janitorial services, maintenance and other elements necessary for a smooth-running operation?
  • What are the true costs of fuel for the live-burn fire props or the cost to run the air ventilation system at the indoor shooting range?

The core mission and challenges of maintaining and operating a public safety training does not change. There are these guarantees:

  • Costs will go up.
  • Budgets will go down.
  • Training delivery can never be compromised.
  • Job risks will never diminish.
  • No day is ever the same.
  • Challenges never cease.

Based on our twenty-plus years of experience of developing Strategic Business Plans for Public Safety Training Centers we have assisted many agencies in developing their training centers. In many cases money for construction was the easy part. Now with possible budget cutbacks and layoffs, departments are faced with finding creative ways of maintaining training mandates and at the same time trying to pay the utility bills, and keep training equipment operational. We have helped training center managers re-think and modify their daily operational activities and policies. There is no one solution or “silver bullet” that can be applied to all training center sustainability challenges.  As with most things successful training center operations will come down to hard work and commitment.

Here are six issues for creative training center sustainability and successful operations:

  1. No two days are never the same at a training center. Demands on staff, equipment and logistics change daily if not hourly. If your training center will serve multiple agencies or disciplines such as police, fire, or public works the issues surrounding training center scheduling will be compounded exponentially.
  2. Facility staff and maintenance issues. Who will make sure the drill ground is ready for the day’s drill? That the range is clean and lead free? That the propane igniters for the live burn simulators are ready and safe? Will this be the responsibility of a sworn member, or will a support person perhaps from public works maintain the equipment?
  3. If training props break or need maintenance, who will call the manufacturer, order repair parts, revise the training schedule or notify crews that training classes will be cancelled?
  4. What are the true training needs now and 20 years from now? Will the site for the center support growth? Will the site utilities meet the equipment needs, apparatus storage, parking, etc?
  5. If the training center is a multiple department partnership, how will the training center be governed? Who gets scheduling priority, how and why? What is the chain of command for decision making? A standing committee or a rotating center manager position?
  6. In a multiple department structure how much does each partner pay, how much and when?

The list of issues will continue to grow as the training center project progresses.

Based on a national perspective, we see some key trends emerging that agencies are using to overcome O&M budget hurdles. Following are the most effective:

1. Police/Fire Collaborations – The most obvious relationships are those forged between police and fire within their own city or county. Usually both department chiefs report to the same city manager or county administrator. Budget pressure for cuts and economizing are usually coming down from the manager or administrator, so cooperation between departments within the same city/county is essential. Pre-2008 thinking was often driven by entirely different factors than today (status quo, tradition, non-monetary-driven agendas and yes, even ego).  With the extraordinary budget pressures of 2010, we see these old-school ways fading very quickly. Many parts of the training facilities, such as classrooms, drill ground and multi-story drill towers can be jointly used by both departments. Whereby operational costs can be shared.

  • One of the best public safety collaborations I have seen in my 20-plus-year career is Glendale Regional Public Safety Training Center, Glendale Arizona.
  • $45 million, public safety training facility
  • EVOC, Live Fire Burn Props and shooting range
  • A partnership between 4 cites and community college
  • Cost share is based on size of sworn staff and number of annual recruits

2. Community College Collaborations – Following similarly as above, Community College/Public Safety Partnerships are rapidly becoming another trend. Many Community College training center collaborations are a win-win relationship. Colleges have a revenue source with student tuitions. Colleges do an excellent job of operating facilities whereby the city or county may own the land/facility and the college will run it. Here in California a community college paid for the construction of a new multi-million dollar training center on land owned by the local fire district. In exchange for the land, the district will receive priority access to a state-on-the art facility. Another example is the use of the training center in exchange for user fees. Departments are recruiting colleges to bring their fire and police science programs to their city/county-owned training center. The college is charged a fee for access and use, thereby off-setting the training center annual operations cost. This is certainly a win-win for both parties.

  • Several other excellent community college collaborations are:
  • College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn IL
  • The college hosts college classes and local law enforcement and fire agencies in-service, perishable skills and academy classes.
  • Central Florida Training, Orlando FL
  • The community college is the custodial manager of the regional fire training center owned by public agencies.
  • Washoe County Reno, Nevada
  • The agency owns the facility and off-sets its O&M budget by allowing the community college to use their training props for its fire science program.

3. Non Public Safety Partnerships – Another trend in partnering is the joining of public safety agencies (police/fire) with “civilian departments.” For example, a metropolitan city in the northwest has a training center that is shared by the fire department and city public works. Both entities can share in the use and maintenance of the classroom and training props. Other examples include:

  • In California a police agency needed an expansion of its EVOC track. They had land available but no capital improvement funding. The departments created an agreement with the local heavy equipment earth moving union. In exchange for space to train new apprentice workers the union graded land for the new driving track.

Truck driving school co-location

  • Kansas City, MO
  • Luzerne Community College, Nanticoke, PA
  • Nash Community College, North Carolina
  • Metropolitan Community College, Kansas City, MO
  • Labor Dept. is forecasting a shortage of 48,000 truck drivers in 2015
  • Workplace Safety Training – Sub-Contracting Opportunities
    • Public Works Departments
    • Construction Companies
    • Confined Space Awareness Training
    • Fall Protection or Trenching Awareness

4. Facility Rental; Space and Time – A Public Safety Training Center provides an excellent venue for private business. The value of large open spaces, such as training drill grounds or driving pads or track are attractive to companies. Training centers are Safe, Secure and Consistent”. Centers provide limited or controlled access from the public (Safe). The training outdoor areas are fenced and usually indoor classroom areas are usually only accessible by key-card or some other form of controlled entry (Secure). Training centers can be open on a 24/7 basis, allowed of off-hour access within a controlled environment (Consistent). Here are some possible private business rental opportunities.

  • Television Commercials
  • Television shoots
  • Product Demonstration Videos
  • Classrooms & Drill Pad

5. Not a direct cost saver or revenue generator, Just Good Business! – When budgets get squeezed you will need community support. Don’t forget about community involvement and the impact it can have for both good will and for keeping your facility front and center in the minds of those you are there to protect. Some public serving ideas include:

  • Life Scan – fingerprinting DNA
  • Red Cross Classes
  • Blood Drives
  • Walk/Run Charity Runs
  • Community Events
  • Teen and Senior Survival Driving Classes
  • Long-term positive benefits to public safety as a whole
  • Attracting new generations of first responders

I look forward to any comment or unique ways you are using generate revenue at your training center.

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