Welcome to the new year, critical facility managers! As you reflect on the last year, please take a moment to consider one question: Did you get the funding necessary to implement your critical fire protection projects?
Each year as budgeting time rolls around, critical facility managers must present their fire expenditure needs for the upcoming year. Facility managers should provide presentations that demonstrate the potential catastrophic consequences of a fire occurrence and their impact on personnel, infrastructure, and mission-critical equipment.
As facility managers, you are responsible not only for maintaining your facilities, but also for educating and informing top management about fire risks and ways to manage those risks. You are tasked to be an expert on the fundamentals of the complex fire protection systems within your facilities and to share that valuable expertise with your senior level management team—especially when it is time to budget.
Working with top management to secure needed fire and life safety funding requires a skilled facility manager with a game plan. Here are ORR’s top tips for you to prepare a game plan to get the funds needed to keep your protection systems in great condition, compliant with codes and standards, and ready to respond to fires.
1. Know Your Timeline
Budget time can be stressful. It is vital to gather information early to allow ample time to assess and document your needs, to survey the facility, and to secure pricing. Your level of preparedness will generate credibility and increase the likelihood of acquiring the needed funds.
The best approach is to start the process of evaluating your facility’s fire protection needs at the beginning of each fiscal year. As fire protection needs arise, record them in a living document, like a spreadsheet, being sure to regularly keep it updated and revised throughout the year. This approach also allows you to be ready at a moment’s notice in the event funds become available to finance items that may not have been initially budgeted.
2. Articulate Your Message
While you may have spent months gathering data, pricing, options and solutions, senior managers tend to need “just the facts,” especially when budgeting. This is when the prepared manager has the greatest opportunity to carve out their needed piece of the fiscal pie.
You need to be able to articulate an overview of the fire protection problems within your facilities clearly and succinctly, preferably in 25 words or less. Without an understanding of the big picture problem, management won’t buy into the details. Once management has an understanding of the problem, you must then show them all the options available to resolve it as well as the reasoning behind why you recommend one solution above the others. If there is a less expensive solution than the one you’ve determined to be best, you will need a strong argument and supporting materials to make your case.
3. Partner with Your Partner
Your fire protection partner can take on most of the burden of information gathering. As industry experts, your supplier should be able to provide you with options and pricing, as well as clarity on the complicated matters that can arise regarding fire protection equipment. Make sure your partner has a copy of any corporate guidelines and standards regarding your company’s fire protection procedures. If a formal document does not exist, your partner can help you prepare one. Standard company policies will help you better manage your fire protection systems.
If you don’t understand the problems your building is facing, be sure to have your fire protection partner explain clearly the risk you are facing and provide helpful supporting materials for you to use when requesting a budget from management. Your partner can prepare and provide presentations, data sheets, case studies, relevant NFPA codes and standards, and further materials to help you in your request for funds.
4. Understand Your Risk
To prioritize your projects and needed budget, you must thoroughly understand the threats in your specific physical environment, the likelihood of a fire occurrence, and costs associated with addressing those risks.
For example, in a data center, server racks present a significant fire risk. In many cases fires happen when hot-running and overcrowded server racks and enclosures experience faulty electrical connections, short circuits, malfunctioning power supplies, power surges, and electrical arcing. Combined with miles of wiring comprised mostly of copper and other alloys (excellent conductors of heat) running through your facility, the introduction of even a small amount of combustible material to such a hot environment results in the potential for a catastrophic fire event.
It is vital that your senior management not be surprised by any fire equipment failure. Major failures should be predictable when equipment comes to the end of its useful life. If you keep top management informed when the fire equipment gets closer to its end, and when you are spending increased time and dollars in maintenance, you add strength to your case. At budget time your job is to continue to present the facts and make clear to senior management the increased risk and potential loss due to inaction.
5. Be Patient but Proactive
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare when considering the best way to gain the necessary budget funds for fire protection projects. You may have to ask several times over several years for the funding for a single project, even if you have taken all the necessary steps to inform and educate senior management on the associated risks. Be patient and persistent in your approach to acquiring the needed funds and your likelihood of success will increase over time.
With your game plan in place—an early start, a thorough understanding and well-articulated message of your fire protection needs, documented supporting material, and patience—you have the best chance of effectively acquiring the necessary budget to minimize fire risks and reduce the liability costs associated with them.
Good luck and best wishes for acquiring your needed fire protection funding in the new year!