The police and fire training centers of today look much different than they did 10 to 15 years ago. Static training drills, such as “stand and shoot” firearms qualification or repetitive hose deployment drills, have been improved through the growing trend of dynamic, scenario-based activities. Computers and simulators have become as common at the training center as the fire hose or RedMan suit was back in the day. This is Part 3 in a series of articles discussing ideas that are being used today to help generate revenue at Public Safety Training Centers throughout the country where police officers, firefighters, public utility workers, and federal agencies train.
In case you missed them, here are the links to the first two articles:
Outside Users and Training Center Revenue
In Part 3 of this series we will discuss the importance and benefits of hosting “Outside Users” to generate revenue.
The concept of allowing outside departments to use your training center is not new. In fact, after 23 years of developing strategic business plans for public safety training centers, I can say that I cannot remember a department that did not allow other departments to use their training facility. The one big difference that I have noticed in recent years – especially since the start of the financial crisis of 2008 (or as some refer to, the Lesser Depression, the Long Recession, or the Global Recession) – is now the common practice of charging a fee for the access and use of training center features and props. Prior to 2007, free access and training to other department’s training centers was very common; it was almost expected. For better or worse (this is discussion for another article) such is not the case now. If you have responsibility for managing a training center and are still not charging others (or have no intention to do so), I’d like to hear from you. I believe you will be the exception to the rule.
Inviting outside users (defined as anyone not in your department) to come and pay a fee to train brings greater responsibility and work than having only your department training at the facility. First, if people are paying for something (instead of getting it for free) their expectation is much higher. All training areas and props must be clean and fully operable. Second, safety is a greater concern because you may not be managing the entire training event with your staff. Outside users generally have an expectation that their staff will also be conducting at least a portion of a training event.
If the outside user is a neighboring police or fire department, the timing and logistics are generally much easier than a department in another county or a non-first responder department (such as private industry, hospitals, military, or a public utility company).
While it’s very important to make sure that the training center is safe and functional for outside users, don’t overlook the importance of establishing appropriate fees for use of the facility. In many cases, charging for training center use falls into one of two categories:
- Generating revenue to offset operations and maintenance costs.
- Charging a fee to provide joint training for mutual aid responders. In this case, the emphasis is not on generating revenue.
In either case, knowing what it costs to operate the facility and deliver training is of the utmost importance. For example, in the case of fire department live burn training exercises, you must understand the costs associated with training consumables (such as water, propane, class “A” fuels, and wear and tear on your burn room or building). If you are providing instructors to outside user’s classes then those labor cost must also be accounted for.
After the decision is made to charge for training classes or allow others to access your training center and you know and understand the cost of training delivery one question remains: Who will come? I suggest a two-part approach:
Potential Users Focus Group
The purpose of a Focus Group is for potential outside users to exchange ideas and information concerning training needs, current training conditions, and the training budget environment. A key element for a successful Focus Group meeting is for the host of the session to ask open ended questions and to listen more than speak. For best results, limit the Focus Group meeting to 1 ½ to 2 hours; attendees will get restless and lose enthusiasm if the meeting runs too long. Also, limit the group to no more than 12 to 15 attendees with executive or chief level authority and experience.
A successful Focus Group meeting should be judged by your ability to answer the following questions:
- Who will come to train?
- What type of training is needed?
- What type of training equipment is needed?
- How many students will be trained?
- What is considered a reasonable fee for the training or access to the training center?
- What are the major obstacles stopping potential users from using the training center?
Potential Users Survey
For those public agencies and private companies that are unable to attend the focus group meeting, a potential users survey should be considered. I have experience using a web-based survey tool called Survey Monkey. They have several easy-to-use survey templates. Their service is free for up to 10 survey questions and 100 responses per survey.
Unlike the Focus Group meeting, the survey questions should be very specific in nature. The survey is not a discussion, rather, it’s an “Ask and Answer” environment. Keep the questions easy to answer. For example:
- If the following classes were held at our training center, would you come? YES or NO
- Would you pay a fee to attend this class [enter class name]?
- If you would attend [enter class name] how many students per year you would send?
Also, the survey respondent is generally pressed for time so try to limit the total completion to no more than 15 to 20 minutes.
Generating revenue at your training center to either off-set operational costs or to simply provide training with your mutual aid partners is a trend that is here to stay. If you are currently charging for training and use of your training center, congratulations. Be sure you:
- Fully understand the cost of delivering training.
- Insure that all systems are safe and working efficiently.
To help increase the number of users coming to your facility, consider holding a Focus Group meeting or reach out to potential users via a web-based survey. Either method works; be sure to consider users other than traditional first responders, such as private industry or other public entities such as public works departments. The response may surprise you!
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