Price DPPD dissertation lays groundwork for LAFD strategic plan

July 17, 2018

LAFD Assistant Chief and USC Price doctoral grad John Drake at a recent celebration for a new full engine fire company in the West San Fernando Valley. (Photo courtesy of David Crane, Daily News/SCNG)

By Matthew Kredell

The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) never had a comprehensive strategic plan in its previous 129-year history, until John Drake enrolled in the Doctor of Policy, Planning and Development program at the USC Price School of Public Policy to learn how to effectively design one.

Drake, now an assistant chief for the LAFD, assumed the role of chairman of a strategic planning committee that developed a comprehensive document — resulting from focus group meetings with stakeholders within and outside the department, community stakeholder meetings with all 96 Los Angeles neighborhood councils, and an online survey of L.A. residents.

His professional dissertation “A Public Sector Organizational Change Model: Prioritizing a Community-Focused, Inclusive, and Collaborative Approach to Strategic Planning” formed the basis for the Los Angeles Fire Department: A Safer City 2015-2017 strategic plan.

“The LAFD is an organization that is continually striving for contemporary relevance,” Drake said. “I realized that strategic planning was an effective means to pursue organizational improvement. Ultimately, the ideology behind it was to pursue a collaborative, inclusive and participative approach that offered a progressive shift from standardized LAFD practices.”

Dean Jack. H. Knott highlighted Drake’s real-world impact in his speech at the USC Price commencement ceremony in May.

Prioritizing the community

Drake started for the LAFD as a fire fighter in 1985 and has worked in South Los Angeles, Hollywood, Rampart, Downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley in his 33 years with the department.

“I have learned a lot about the LAFD over the years, and in that time it became obvious that developing and communicating organizational vision, mission, values, goals and the means to achieve the goals, are paramount to success,” Drake said. “I’m a strong advocate of a service-oriented model that prioritizes the community. If you don’t have a plan, or an organizational road map, direction for our most important resource, our people, will not exist.”

The dissertation outlined eight LAFD organizational goals, along with strategic initiatives to achieve those goals. Organizational goals included:

  • Provide exceptional public safety and emergency services
  • Implement and capitalize on advanced technologies
  • Reduce expenditures and pursue cost-effective solutions
  • Enhance qualities of leadership, management and project delivery
  • Enhance risk management systems and improve threat assessments
  • Strengthen community relationships and enhance community resilience
  • Recruit, develop and retain a professional and diverse workforce
  • Support business, improve services and develop public-private partnerships.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recognized the work and Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas stated that he considered the plan to be “one of the most important documents ever produced by the Department because it will serve as our guide to create the optimal LAFD.” It was also used as the foundation for the 2018-20 plan A Safer City 2.0.

Scalable strategies

Drake credited his dissertation committee chair, Associate Teaching Professor Deborah Natoli, with helping him through the process of putting together the strategic plan.

“John Drake is an example of a student who used his degree to change public policy and innovate in the practice,” said Natoli, director of the DPPD program at USC Price. “We call it a professional doctorate degree because it’s for people already in leadership roles who come to learn interdisciplinary theories and action research methodologies to implement immediately, enhancing the job they’re already doing for social and policy impact.

While his dissertation already has made an impact in the LAFD, Drake hopes it will have an even wider influence.

“My dissertation committee emphasized the importance of developing a model that other organizations could use,” Drake said. “So the overarching goal here was not just to build a strategic plan for the LAFD, but to construct an organizational change model that could be practically applied in varied public sector settings. It’s a step-by-step process.”