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POETE: The Planning Acronym

Due to ever-present budget restraints and challenges there remains in public safety a growing number of departments facing planning and program management dilemmas. How can a small or medium sized department maximize their program management planning? No department is facing this alone, and there are some similarities and nuances in each of problems they face. Of course, it is difficult to have any conversation in Policeland without an acronym. This is no different. If you are directed to organize a specialized unit of any type, you’ve got to have POETE.
POETE breaks down to Planning, Organization, Equipment, Training, Exercises. It is also noteworthy that these are in sequence (for the most part). So whatever your next project’s design might be, let’s apply these steps towards your goal. First of all, this acronym is found within all disciplines of emergency services. It should not be a revelation to those who are about to start on a project; these are time-tested steps towards success.
Each time you are assigned a program, you should first attempt to answer three questions. Also, it doesn’t hurt to continually clarify these answers throughout the project.
1.) What do we know, or the directives or facts given to you?
2.) Do you have written and/or verbal directives that have been given to you and are they clearly understood?
3.) What are the time restraints, who are the helpers and who are the internal and external obstructionists?
Ensure you have received clear directions. What do we think we know or what are the assumptions about the matter at hand? Try to achieve set definitions and descriptions of what is expected.
Never assume that all persons involved are using the same definitions and define any gray areas. Within one police department there are several different working definitions for everything. Clear and concise directions are paramount. What do we need to know or where is there an information void? Where are the information gaps and how large of an obstacle can they create? Often information gaps can create an over response or downplay it, either way this can cost budget resources, not to mention waste valuable time and resources.
Winston Churchill once stated, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” If you go off to the grocery store you need a list, not an operational plan. However when you are designing a program with governmental dollars you will need a plan or a road map to direct you and prove you performed due diligence.
Ask yourself, how is this new element going to “fit” into my organization? If your department is nationally and/or state certified, or accredited by any organization, you will have to visit the accreditation manager. Also visit the budget office or financial controller. Whose little pot of money is going to fund—and more important sustain—this program? Weigh any impact to staffing and personnel. In small to medium sized departments everyone has collateral duties. You can only get so much production from your most precious resources (personnel) without creating stress. Projects can make for additional stress, and poor staff performance leads to a marginal product at best. This will garner you a lack of support and organizational buy-in...which will create failure.
Never go shopping without doing your research first. The latest “tacticool” tool may not even work for you, so do not act like a kid waiting for their birthday. Plan and apply needs verses wants, governmental dollars are limited. If you have departmental assets and equipment that could be used as dual purpose or multifunction, this is excellent. Everybody wants their own personal widget but in today’s financial environment few can afford it. Shared assets and dual purpose are key words in making this project succeed. 
There are a few simple suggestions I offer for training. First up is safety! I do not care if this program is simple or complex—think and live safety. Make your training winnable, stop already with the zombies. I grow weary of worse case scenario training where the good guys never win. Make the training incremental as you advance, it has got to become more applicable to real world issues. If you have access to current threat assessments and they have the CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive) elements applied. Review these for response to all planned, natural occurring and criminal events. If nothing else, you can build on past trainings and enhance the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) of your department.
These too are a process, best said as stand erect, baby steps, walk and then run. I have seen where one informal table top exercise can bring out the weaknesses in a program’s implementation. One table top can save thousands of dollars and wasted valuable resources. If you ever try to go full bore without a planning drill and/or table top, two things will happen: One, the program will be a failure and two, you will never right the ship again. Police departments have long memories of failure, thus resuscitation will be impossible. Implementation is a procedure to success, not a leap frog contest to win by chance. Never ever forget that your staff will perform under stress at the same performance levels as they have trained. Train well and win, train sloppy and lose.
One big reminder that POETE is not a linear process but best applied when circular, it is a constant evolving process. There is no stopping point but constant refinement. One big rock in the road will cause you to return back and review the process that brought you to this. Planning is hard work but it is meticulous work. Having a tried and true pathway can save you wasted time and anguish and help to create a finished product everyone can be proud of.  ¦

William L. “Bill” Harvey is a native Virginian. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department.