You may look at the title of this column and think, “When does business tell government what to do?” It does happen, and for very important reasons. It begins when security executives break down the invisible walls between them and police, fire and emergency management officials. When that happens, great opportunities can develop. I can attest to that. 

As program director of Michigan State University’s Critical Incident Protocol (CIP) Community Facilitation Program since 2005, I have seen what can be achieved when the public and private sectors work together. The CIP Program has worked with businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations at a city, county and regional level to bring them together for crisis management. This federally funded program, which lost its funding last year, led to research, best practices and lessons learned as it worked directly at the community level to create collaborations. Michigan State University initiated partnerships with 47 communities in 24 states, with more than 4,200 public- and private-sector executives working side-by-side in the CIP Program workshops.

Partnerships like these offer many benefits, particularly in times of crisis. They make businesses and communities more effective in resuming normalcy and recovering after an event. They provide opportunities for resource sharing, enhanced crisis management, and critical information sharing, leading to stronger management of crisis events and minimizing impact and loss for all involved. At their best, they can also elevate the reputation of the business for its involvement in the community and public service.

Across the nation, there are security executives pushing business-government collaboration that will benefit both the private and public sectors. Many times, security directors have asked me and others in the CIP Program about the best ways to approach the first responder community. From my experiences and others’, I’ve learned a few basic tips that will help most aspiring collaborators.

• Start small. Don’t expect to jump right into joint exercises and shared resources. The process of building a partnership begins as security executives reach out to their public-sector peers to discuss projects and programs and to share concerns.

A while ago, a security executive for an aerospace company shared with me his experience in developing a relationship with area police, fire, health and emergency management officials. Tom, the security director, had recently joined the corporation. He started by calling the first responder executives. On the telephone, he introduced himself and shared with them some basic information about the corporation. Afterwards, he followed up by sending a brief note and a company brochure to the officials. In a few months he invited area first responder executives to their corporate facility for a 45-minute “getting to know you” event with some food and refreshments, along with a presentation on the company’s preparedness and security capabilities. As time went on, Tom and his staff received some invitations from the public sector asking if they wanted to participate in meetings on community-wide evacuation planning.

Partnerships are based on trust, and they must be allowed to grow. Start small, with one of the most important issues – basic information sharing.

• Commit. You may find that your willingness to partner is not reciprocated after a number of attempts. The important thing is to continue reaching out.

For about three years, two people in Detroit were talking with me about bringing the CIP Program to their city. We were ready, but they wanted to be sure that people were committed and that the timing was right. After three years of attempts, we facilitated the public/private partnership program for downtown Detroit. During those three years, Michigan and Detroit faced challenging economic issues, and there is no doubt that these issues can push programs to the side.

If your efforts don’t pan out at first, then the timing is not right. Try later. If that doesn’t work, try again later. Commitment can make things happen, just as it did for these individuals.

• Be patient. I recently spoke with a shopping mall security manager about the partnership program he’d had in place for a couple of years. The mall security department had a reasonably good relationship with area police and fire officials. However, the area businesses and first responder authorities had raised the partnership past the typical level. They started doing joint training and exercising. Additionally, the area security executives were invited to participate in government strategic preparedness planning projects. The security director stressed that it was a long time before he saw results that directly benefited his department and the shopping mall. He said security executives should not expect a win-win immediately.

The challenges security executives face in developing public/private partnerships are minor annoyances when weighed against the value of having such partnerships in place. Those who lead with a clear focus can easily navigate such problems and take hold of better preparedness, stronger security and business value.