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Public safety Industry education Scheduling series

Public Safety Scheduling: Introduction

On January 27, 2022

In the public safety industry, coverage is one of the most critical matters of agency operations to ensure effective response – it relies on adequacy, accuracy, and efficacy. It’s also one of the most common challenges, especially given the endless number of approaches which can be applied to 24/7/365 scheduling. 


This series intends to explore the different designs and techniques through which public safety agencies can approach their scheduling, and address the following subjects and more:


While many agencies are implementing automated scheduling softwares designed for public safety environments and needs, many others continue to utilize manual scheduling methods. No matter which system you use, when beginning the process of building or optimizing your agency’s schedule, start by evaluating the schedule you have versus the schedule you want. Then, identify what resources, changes, or systems could enable you to transition from the first to the second. The schedule you want will assume full staffing, which is not a reality for many agencies – but the exercise of doing so can help you optimize shift lengths, overtime placement, and other variables which can help manage available resources as efficiently as possible.




Introduction to shift lengths

Minimum staffing requirements play a significant role in how your agency’s schedule will ultimately be able to function. Shift length will affect minimum staffing needs, employee morale, and can easily make-or-break the ease and efficiency through which you are able to fill overtime – one of the most important aspects of most agency operations.


8-hour and 12-hour shifts are often considered the most efficient over 10-hour shifts by simple virtue of the fact they’re both able to be cleanly divided into a 24-hour period. 10-hour shifts offer other advantages, such as boosting morale for employees and improving productivity, but will require more thought when it comes to creating a coverage plan capable of meeting your agency’s daily needs without overcomplicating scheduling work for your supervisors.


Each type of shift will also offer its own disadvantages, and the introduction of overtime into the equation complicates the process further. These articles serve to break down the pros and the cons of each shift type, as well as offer helpful strategies for when and how to use them to create an effective, well-balanced schedule. 


Introduction to overtime strategies

The objective of any schedule, and the difference between an effective one which serves your organization versus an ineffective one which challenges it, is to meet the minimum staffing requirements for your agency. For most agencies, the ability to fill overtime will be a key – if not the single most important – part of a scheduling system that serves them effectively. Otherwise, the risk can often be the creation of operational inefficiencies that may seem manageable in the short-term but cause more problems than they’re worth in the long-term and drain agency resources – time, energy, and money. 


There are strategies that can be built into your schedule configurations which can support the process of filling overtime, such as ensuring you leave gaps in your minimum staffing at points in the day and week where you know they are typically easier to fill. For example, if you know you’ll absolutely have to post certain pieces of overtime, place those on daytime shifts Monday or Tuesday rather than a Friday graveyard. This article dives further into the best practices for overtime, and how to design a schedule that works for your organization and your employees.


Introduction to rotating schedule

Rotating schedules can be perceived as attractive on paper – especially due to the fact that it makes it possible to distribute the most and least desirable shifts equitably amongst personnel. The primary challenge in incorporating a rotating schedule is that they don’t work very well with 10- or 12-hour shifts. If your agency already utilizes an 8-hour or a hybrid shift, you can incorporate a rotating schedule to take the load off of your employees.


Additionally, rotating shifts are often the culprit of creating new obstacles that weren’t obviously identifiable in the planning stages. While that doesn’t make them a bad option, and there are definitely times when they can be effectively implemented, it does make it important to consider all the advantages and disadvantages before your agency commits. This article is designed to offer a balanced perspective on rotating shifts to help your agency make an informed decision on whether or not they make sense for your unique operations.


The principles of public safety scheduling

In the end, public safety environments are entirely unique, making them a greater challenge because there is so little overlap with other industry standards. This is most especially true when you consider how many competing priorities there can be, all with a need to manage accurately, including the nature of 24/7/365 operating environments combined with highly specialized skill sets and qualifications, unique policies, procedures, collective bargaining agreements, and more. 


This series strives to serve as an ongoing resource addressing all these challenges, providing information and recommendations, and ultimately help support agencies overcome the difficulties that come with managing a public safety schedule. We encourage anyone with additional topics or questions on scheduling to contact us – comment, email, or call – and we’re happy to help you while also continuing to add to this series. 



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