The value of a single life and selling a public safety vision

By Kirk Miller

How much is your life worth?

If you ask anyone this question, undoubtedly the answer is “priceless”!  However, if you ask an actuary in the insurance industry what a single life is worth, the answer changes considerably. Entire businesses exist to calculate how much money the loss of a life is worth, and there is even a methodology for calculating the Value of Statistical Life (VSL) down to a single year for medical considerations.  

The vast majority of people would agree that life is invaluable, but in the aftermath of high-profile and fatal disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill and similarly catastrophic events, a “dollar” value precedent has clearly been established. According to an Aug. 1, 2013 article in the National Journal about Ken Feinberg, who is arguably the go-to actuary for every major catastrophe in recent U.S. history, the value of a single life as demonstrated in these examples, is just over $2 million. This is the amount that has been established and defended in the insurance industry as the payout for the loss of a life. So the next time someone asks you what a life is worth, you know the true, if seemingly callous, answer. 

Putting Need into Perspective

As a public safety leader, I am sure you don’t try to place a price tag on life – but there is undeniably a direct relationship between the value of a life and the challenges you face every day. How many times have you heard someone in your organization use arguments similar to these to try and win approval for funding on some initiative or new piece of technology?

  • It will save lives by…
  • It will make our officers safer by…
  • It will help us reduce the threat by …

These arguments alone are probably insufficient to accomplish your objective of getting your project approved and funded. If you are making only these types of emotional arguments without considering other aspects of the business case, you are asking decision makers to base their decisions on a potential threat or risk that they can’t quantify or explain to their peers or constituency.

In order to get the support for improvements you need to help safeguard those lives you are sworn to protect, you must be able to put your need into perspective for the people who have to make tough funding decisions, such as finance directors, agency administrators and legislators.

It is not that those decision makers value life less than any of us. The problem is, when you make a case for your requested investment based predominately on saving lives, you are only touching on a small part of what they must consider. It’s their job to weigh all factors in making investments in the right tools and technologies – and cost is unavoidably a major factor. Making arguments that a new tool will save lives or reduce risk to officers alone is not enough. This necessitates that you include justifications based not only on the life-saving aspects of your plan, but also on the financial and business impacts of your request to make your argument stronger and improve the chances of gaining the support you need.

So what do you do? The answer is rather straightforward; you give the decision makers a plan that offers concrete ways to improve tangible business or financial aspects of public safety. Actionable information, sound financial analysis and accountability are what decision makers need to justify their choices. So you need to arm them with the tools they need to approve or fight for your plan/project.

Offering a Customized Continuum

Lifecycle management planning is a collaborative process in which your stakeholders and solutions provider experts jointly develop a long-term vision for system growth, enhancements and technology refreshes. Agencies should be looking for an innovative lifecycle management-based program that provides a customized continuum of planned investment, upgraded technology and predictable spending that demonstrates significant cost savings to your organization over the life of the program.

On top of all the other things you are required to do and manage, you have to learn how to translate complex technical projects for politicians and financial decision makers.  How are you going to accomplish that? The first step is finding a way to create a financially sustainable vision for where your organization needs to be over the course of 5 to 10 years and providing a demonstrable cost saving or cost avoidance.  This sounds simple, right?

Not really. At least, not if you try to do it in a vacuum. That’s why many public safety agencies are using service providers to make available comprehensive technology strategies for just this kind of planning. It is now possible to create multi-year, multi-vendor, multi-technology roadmaps for your organization that will demonstrate long-term cost savings in a predictable and accountable way with little or no risk to your organization, but collaboration is crucial for your success. Your solutions provider must work closely with you to establish a customized solution that will resonate with your organizational leaders and decision makers.

A program like this can help you shift operational risks to the vendor partner and should provide a translation from real world, life-saving benefits into terms that the decision makers can rally behind.

Presenting politicians and financial decision-makers with a proposal that highlights the life-saving nature of the request along with a  full detailed analysis on how to improve public safety while saving your jurisdiction a substantial amount of money, is the best way to change the conversation and, ultimately, win the support you need. Engaging a trusted service provider can offer guidance in crafting the proposal to help ensure success in accomplishing the organizational goals: both financially and humanistically.

Kirk Miller has been in the communications industry for more than 20 years. With a background in consulting, engineering and account management, he is currently working in the Managed Services arm of Motorola Solutions' Global Solution and Services organization. He focuses on strategic network and operational planning for communications networks.

Motorola Solutions’ Migration Assurance Program provides a customized plan in a predictable and budgeted manner based on the goals and needs of the customer’s network. For more information, please visit the Migration Assurance Program homepage.


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