Adaptation Key Amid Global Crisis
This spring has clarified much about why we value face-to-face interactions that come by learning at and with the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA)—and why our members seek to return to it with such a strong sense of purpose. Cognitively: studying together speeds and deepens learning in myriad ways. (Research shows this.) Socially: collaboration accelerates the creation of new knowledge much faster than solo effort. Above all, working and learning in company strengthens the deep human connections we prize at AFSA.
In March, when states started to issue “shelter-in-place” orders, AFSA immediately engaged with our partners to swiftly ensure that the fire sprinkler industry was classified as an essential business in many states and municipalities. We wrote dozens of letters to elected officials on behalf of the industry, and AFSA organized member-driven, grassroots letter-writing campaigns.
Next, to keep the industry moving forward throughout April and May, AFSA responded by offering more virtual professional development opportunities. Over these eight weeks, AFSA is provided 14 additional webinars for members, free-of-charge—including CEUs. Literally, hundreds of our members participated in the 14-part webinar series, resulting in thousands of training contact hours.
Staff also worked quickly to transition our live training into a web-based format so members could continue their education online and organized AFSA’s first-ever virtual mid-year Chapter Leadership Conference.
While planning within such an uncertain environment is stressful, the strength and creativity we bring to that task—working together—is rewarding and sustaining. Bringing our members back together safely is an enormous task and also a hopeful one because it is a key step in the path forward to a post-pandemic. We will continue to share updates as new information becomes available via our COVID-19 page (www.firesprinkler.org/covid19), create opportunities for feedback, and find more ways to connect virtually.
Operating During a Pandemic
Even as we move into the second quarter of 2020, AFSA is actively planning for the year ahead. In the weeks since the beginning of the pandemic, AFSA’s leaders have been engaged in two main efforts—emergency management and adaptation—adjusting administrative and staff operations to safeguard the health of the community in an ongoing way all the while providing the best-in-class training experience our members are accustomed. In May, AFSA added a third effort: planning for next year.
The AFSA Board of Directors met in April 2020 virtually to discuss the state of the industry and the Association’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, the Executive Committee heard reports on the preliminary financial impact of COVID-19 on the current and upcoming fiscal years. Following these presentations, the Board of Directors concurred that, due to the impact of the pandemic on our members and their businesses, the Board would roll back a previously adopted dues increase, effective immediately. The action to undo the increase is part of the Association’s thoughtful response to the COVID-19 pandemic—one among several actions AFSA has taken.
“This pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge for our members, and we must rethink our previous plans. AFSA is focused on ways to help flatten the curve of financial impact on our members and our industry,” said Ted Wills, chair of the Board of Directors and president of Anchor Fire Protection in Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania. “I am so grateful for the Board’s steady guidance and support in that effort.”
Planning for Fall 2020 and Beyond
It’s important to remember that AFSA does not control the surrounding public health context; decisions by the federal government and by Texas’ leadership will frame the Association’s options in the months ahead. Yet much is in our control that promotes resilience: creative adaptations to the structure of our training curriculum and adaptations to our physical operations and modes of work that safeguard health.
AFSA recognizes the uncertainty so many are feeling regarding this worldwide crisis. Rest assured, the AFSA leadership will continue to make decisions in a measured, phased way, taking the steps required to flatten the curve of financial impact due to COVID-19. Linda Biernacki, chair of the Membership and Chapter Development Committee and president of Fire Tech Systems in Shreveport, Louisiana, said, “The Board has encouraged the Association to look for ways to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19 on members through increased educational offerings, like its free webinar series, and its newly created COVID-19 resource page.”
For reliable information and updates about the virus and on how the wider fire sprinkler industry is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit www.firesprinkler.org/COVID19.
“I am grateful for the work of the leadership team to consider the impact of this pandemic on our members and how we can navigate these challenges together,” Biernacki said. “It is prudent to reconsider any increases in costs at this time, so as to lessen the financial impact on our members and their businesses.”
Flattening the Financial Curve
In response to the pandemic, the leadership has already implemented several immediate measures to limit near-term spending until more is known about long-term financial impacts. The Association instituted a hiring freeze, filling only positions that are required to maintain continuity of operations. For the remainder of the fiscal year, employees have been asked to curtail all purchases not considered “mission critical.”
In an effort to protect the health and well-being of staff, members, and visitors working in our Dallas office, AFSA began operating on a virtual basis beginning Monday, March 16. Rest assured, it did not suspend or close operations.
If any of our members had an in-person training planned at our offices, staff will be reaching out with instructions on how to participate virtually or to help you reschedule. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and are in the process of researching alternative options for upcoming in-person events if the need arises. This includes hosting the event virtually or moving it to a date in the future. Any changes to scheduled programs will be communicated directly to attendees.
“AFSA has been here for 39 years, and we intend to be here forever,” Wills said. “We will bring our best thinking to find creative ways to help to ensure that members and their employees can continue to succeed through our core mission of education and training. I am enormously proud of the powerful sense of shared purpose I see everywhere in the AFSA community. Coming out of this crisis, we will be stronger as a result of the challenges we overcome together.”
Thank you to our members for their continued understanding and support as we all try to navigate this rapidly changing situation. And most importantly, please stay safe and healthy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nicole Duvall is director of communications and social media for AFSA.