Operational Planning – A Template from the U.S. Marine Corps


Operational Planning – A Template from the U.S. Marine Corps

Are you a University Parking Director preparing for a large-scale political rally at your campus?  A Municipal Parking Director whose city will host their annual festival bringing tens of thousands of extra patrons at one time?  How about a Parking Operations Manager preparing your personnel to manage parking and valet for an event like the World Series or Super Bowl?  If you are a leader responsible for the management of a complex operation, you must become proficient at operational planning.

This article will relay the benefits of the acronym SMEAC.  SMEAC, also known as the five-paragraph order, is the easy-to-apply template for any operational plan.  Use of the five-paragraph order will set the foundation for you to be a successful planner. SMEAC stands for: 




Administration & Logistics

Command & Signal.

As a young Lieutenant in the Marine Corps I was engrained with how to plan a mission using this SMEAC template at The Basic School.  Every Marine officer, whether they will be a pilot, lawyer, or any other occupational specialty, learns how to lead an infantry platoon during six hard months at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.  In those days our Operational Orders were often only a few pages long and often scribbled on a notepad while sitting against a tree.  Now as a Major in the Marine Corps Reserve planning large-scale exercises, I am accustomed to reviewing operational plans that are hundreds of pages long.  But, no matter how long or short, they follow one constant template.  The five-paragraph order.

Paragraph I:  Situation

• Here you must identify pertinent information regarding the situation.  Most importantly, you should identify what your higher supervisor/entity’s mission is.  Within Situation identify other units/divisions mutually supporting the mission.

Example:  The City of Gotham is hosting the National Convention. The city will experience an influx of an anticipated 600,000 attendees over a period of five days.  The mission of the city is to ensure a safe and well-coordinated event in order to provide a quality experience to both residents and attendees.  Numerous city departments including the Mayor’s Office, Public Works, Fire and Police will support the convention.

Paragraph II: Mission.

• The mission statement should answer the 5 W’s. Who, What, When, Where and Why.  

Example:  The City of Gotham Parking & Mobility Division will coordinate all modes of transportation and parking from 1 October to 6 October in support of the National Convention to ensure maximum efficiency and space availability, on-time transit services, and minimum disruption to traffic flow within the Central Business District.

Paragraph III:  Execution.

• The execution paragraph relays the “How to” perform all the requirements of the mission.  This section has three subparagraphs.  

Concept of Operations. The Concept of Operations subparagraph is your section to explain your plan and overall scheme of maneuver.  How will you accomplish the mission? 

Tasks.  Your tasks are an incredibly important part of the operations order.  Many readers might skim over large parts of the order and focus directly on their task.  You must task the individuals or specific subordinate departments.  

• Example…  Cashier Supervisor:  You will supervise the personnel, accounting, and operations of all eight garage attendant booths during a high-impact event:

• Account for two ten-hour shifts

• Ensure staffing level of one additional team member at each booth

• Coordinate Police escorts for revenue due to larger than normal collection rate

Coordinating Instructions:  Within coordinating instructions discuss all those pertinent details not previously covered.  Any specific timelines for events?  Are there any specific uniforms required?  Special protocols for the event?

Paragraph IV:  Administration and Logistics

• Don’t forget about the administrative details amongst all your operational considerations! Do you have special paperwork or software your employees must utilize?  Do you have specific requirements for scheduling of employees?  Is there overtime pay?

Paragraph V: Command and Signal

• Use paragraph five to identify key leaders.  Where will they be located and manage from?  How will communication occur (cell phones, radio, landline)?  What are their emails and phone numbers?  If you need to talk to outside agencies (Police, Fire, Convention Center), how will that happen?

The SMEAC template is a valuable guide to help direct your planning efforts.  Routine use of the format will create consistency for your team members.  By putting your plan in writing you can ensure all critical details will be relayed.  Responsible leaders must be deliberate in their planning efforts to ensure a successful outcome.

Article contributed by:
Scott Monroe
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