In 1996, Mission-Centered Solutions was founded by Lark and Kathleen McDonald as a consulting firm that focused on extending aviation human factors and Crew Resource Management into ground-based operations. After the devastating South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain that killed 14 federal wildland firefighters, MCS began to work with national land management agencies to address needed cultural change and leader development.  Mark Smith joined as the third managing partner in 2000.

Since that time, MCS has become a prominent service provider for the wildland fire industry, developing and delivering training programs to thousands of agency personnel. In 2008 MCS expanded the application of its systems beyond wildland fire to serve other emergency service organizations; in 2010 we extended our offerings to the private sector. Our service record now encompasses more than 1000 program deliveries and 20,000 program graduates along with clients from more than 60 domestic and international government agencies.

Our portfolio of work includes projects ranging from national-level after action reports analyzing incident responses to doctrine development workshops for national agencies. MCS doctrine and training represents the most mature and tested cultural development products available in the industry worldwide.

Our spirit of partnership and commitment to our clients generated positive results in a recent government-conducted survey taken by seventeen major clients. Survey respondents gave MCS a score of 96 out of 100 in rating reliability, cost, order accuracy, timeliness, quality, business relations, personnel, responsiveness, and customer support.

Our Team

Our team consists of about 50 dedicated instructors, logistics personnel, developers, and consultants, each making unique contributions to our successful programs. Our international delivery partners work in concert with our staff to deliver a consistent and quality product across the globe.

  • Training Cadre – MCS cadre members have extensive experience and expert-level knowledge in the execution of principle-centered leadership, large and complex incident management, human factors, and decision making in ambiguous, undefined, and dynamic environments. Our training personnel are supported by diverse backgrounds, including military special operations, aviation and air operations, law enforcement, firefighting, and incident management. Each cadre member has a deep background in leading teams in high-risk operations and has completed comprehensive training for MCS programs.
  • Logistics Team – The MCS logistics group controls a well-oiled production machine with a 25-step process for provisioning programs. Its operations ensure a turn-key product with uniform delivery time after time. Every year, logistics personnel print, assemble, and ship more than 750,000 pages of course materials to roughly 50 locations in the U.S.,Canada, and Australia. At peak periods, MCS provisions as many as seven programs a week and has – without fail – delivered materials for every course on time.
  • Product Development Group – This team designs and develops all MCS educational and training programs and helps clients integrate MCS products with existing curricula. Unlike that of most other providers, MCS instructional design focuses on executing affective learning domain strategies such as these: outward spiral re-linking learning processes, multiple authoritative perspectives, experiential learning methodologies, and common threat context linking.
  • Consultants – MCS consultants offer a broad variety of services ranging from facilitating organizational doctrinal conferences to organizing and executing training exercises to compiling lessons learned from hurricane or wildfire incidents to conducting field research about team dynamics. We approach each consulting project with an eye on the big picture, keeping a focus on outcomes.

Lark McDonald, Founder and CEO

Lark2I was in grade school when I first became interested in human performance, fascinated by a column called “Aftermath” in Flying Magazine. Every month I would eagerly go to the library in anticipation of reading about the anatomy of the latest air crash: What were they thinking? Why did he do that? How could they have missed that? These kinds of questions called to me as I progressed through college, my career as a pilot, and later as a designer of pilot training and CRM systems.

Today, now focusing primarily on human performance in emergency services, I find the goal of advancing better operational judgment, teamwork, and decision making to be as compelling as ever. The charge of our firm – building mission-driven cultures that fully integrate both technical and human components of operations – is well within reach for some organizations. The role that our firm has played in shaping that evolution is one of our most impressive accomplishments and a source of great pride.

Although our work has drawn considerable praise over the years, it is the people behind this work that transform raw ideas into reality. I am privileged to work with a remarkable team of intelligent and caring people. Our roles may have shifted over the years, but the group has always remained as close as family. In my current position as CEO, I oversee business operations and strategic planning for our firm. My duties also include overseeing our international markets and consulting in support of new program design. Whatever my future role may be as our family grows, I hope that I find myself continuing to do good work with these fine friends and colleagues.

Mark Smith, Operations Director

MarkIn early 2001, I left a career I loved in special operations to come and be a part of building MCS. Leadership and human performance are not theories for me. Given the path I was on prior to joining the Army in 1979, I can safely attribute all my success to leaders and mentors who cared, walked the talk, and took the time. They showed me the way, and I have tried to live up to their example by studying and applying the art of leadership.

I am responsible for the overall performance of our training and consulting cadre. I am also very lucky that I get to be involved in almost every aspect of MCS from strategic planning and marketing to training development and business processes. I am in the trenches with some incredible people on my right and my left. I draw strength and inspiration from them. My best days at work are when I hear one of the hundreds of great stories from former program participants about how they achieved success in a thorny situation by using a tool or technique they got from working with us. That’s when I truly feel I’m fulfilling my purpose.

Carl Donelson, Delivery Operations Manager

CarlI have been an MCS cadre member since 2002 serving as Lead and Human Factors Instructor for At the Point of the Spear (NWCG: L-380 and DHS: CA-002-PREV), as Lead Instructor for Incident Leadership (NWCG: L-381 and DHS: CA-010-PREV), and as Instructor for Intent into Action (NWCG: S‑420 and L‑480). As a cadre member, I have implemented the evaluation components of the MCS leadership curriculum in over a thousand hours of simulation and exercises. My position offers the satisfaction of helping people move forward in their careers and the benefit of working with great professionals and good friends.

I retired from the Army in January of 2000 after 23 years of service, with the majority of my time in Special Forces. My job experience in Special Forces included working at a Group level headquarters in Operations, senior enlisted adviser on a Special Forces Operational Detachment A, and instructor at the Special Warfare Center with the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course. During my years at MCS, I also completed a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 2007 and a Master of Science in Management in 2009.

Michael Carroll, Business Development and Marketing Manager

Mike CarrollI joined the MCS team in 2001 after leading in U.S. Army special operations, the corporate sector, and private industry. Although my missions in these arenas were different, the one constant was the human factor. I’ve developed keen curiosity of – and appreciation for – human interactions both in and out of the operational environment and their effect on the outcomes of individual and collective efforts.

My role at MCS is all about information: analyzing and researching markets, industry, and trends. What I most enjoy is communicating with people and building relationships – asking questions and listening attentively to clients to identify needs, define outcomes, and develop solutions. I collaborate with colleagues to identify and pursue market opportunities and in the development and implementation of marketing strategies. I also work with and monitor feedback from our training cadres in the field to ensure we meet or exceed client expectations.

Most of all, I enjoy working with a great team, people who are excited, passionate, and dedicated to serving those who serve our communities. I couldn’t be more proud to be counted among them.

Miguel Zamudio, Cadre Support and Logistics Coordinator

Miguel recently joined the MCS team after recently finished his tour with the U.S. Air Force, as a service member of the 97th Air Force Logistics Readiness Squadron.  He is a graduate of the Community College of the Air Force in Logistics and Supply Chain Management and is currently pursuing a Paraprofessional Associate of Applied Science.  He is also a member of the Colorado Air National Guard and is bilingual in English and Spanish. Miguel is responsible for MCS cadre support, including travel.  He also is responsible for the program logistical stream and logistical systems that support it.

[Editor note: we will be posting more about Miguel in the near future!]

Laura Walsh, Finance and Business Manager

Before moving to Colorado, I served as a funeral director in California for 20 years. In a business driven by ethics, I felt honored to provide compassionate customer service to families at a vulnerable time in their lives. I am currently pursuing a double major (Business Management and Human Resources) in the MBA program at the University of Southern California.

Starting with MCS in June 2014, I am the new kid on the block. My goal is to create and maintain orderly and practical financial processes; I love getting everything down to a science – predictable and repeatable. It’s important to me to keep processes transparent so our customers and contractors can always see exactly what has been done and what remains to be done.

I recently had an opportunity to observe one day of an Incident Leadership course being taught locally, and it was an eye-opening experience. I was so impressed by how students immediately applied classroom concepts in a simulated response environment. The program was a sharp contrast to the many leadership seminars I’ve attended in which all the great ideas never quite made it into my daily life. It really drove home to me, always the financial analyst, what a great return on investment each student receives in MCS programs.

Thurston (TJ) Hanley, Product Development Lead

TJI joined the MCS team in 2004 after working as a technical writer and training developer in the energy and telecommunication industries. As the development lead, I coordinate project priorities as well as analyze, design, and develop new programs and maintain our existing products.

My education combines two seemingly opposite ends of the learning spectrum: the technical (BS in Mechanical Engineering) and humanities (MA in Rhetoric). Being involved in the development of new programs at MCS has given me an opportunity to advance the application of classical principles to leadership doctrine. I especially enjoy being able to use these timeless philosophies as a foundation that enables modern-day students to become credible and adaptable response leaders.


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