In 1996, Mission-Centered Solutions was founded by Lark McDonald as a consulting firm that focused on extending aviation human factors and Crew Resource Management (CRM) 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 a 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 1700 program deliveries with some 30,000 program graduates along with clients from more than 80 domestic and international government agencies in emergency services. One of the most tested and proven firms in emergency services, MCS focuses on building leadership and command acumen by strengthening operational culture.
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.
MCS is a team of 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 principle-centered leadership, large and complex incident management, human factors, and decision making in ambiguous, undefined, and dynamic environments. Our training personnel have 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 teaching MCS programs.
- Consulting Group – 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.
- 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.
- 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 coordinate the shipment of 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.
Lark McDonald, Founder and CEO
I 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, Partner & Marketing Director
In 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.
Over the course of my years at MCS, I have held most positions at one time or another. I am now in one of my best roles, being responsible for representing MCS in the exchange of new concepts and ideas within the industry. I assist with the spearheading of new initiatives and pilot programs and am responsible for our strategic positioning.
Carl Donelson, Delivery Operations Manager
I have been an MCS cadre member since 2002 and currently oversee the delivery of all MCS programs to the field worldwide. My work includes cadre training, standardization, and resource facilitation. As a lead 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.
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.
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.
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.
I started with MCS in June 2014 with the goal of creating 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 vendors can always see exactly what has been done and what remains to be done.
I remain dedicated to MCS and its mission of building more effective and safe operational cultures. When I first came on board I had an opportunity to observe 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 program I had 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 with our programs.
Nancy Anderson, Product Development Lead
I have served as an editor and product developer for MCS since 2001, developing training materials, lessons learned reports, and doctrine for clients.
Most recently, I have been involved in assisting municipal departments with operational doctrine development. I particularly enjoy working with clients to help them articulate how the timeless concepts of Mission-Driven Culture can apply to and strengthen their organization.
In my world, words matter, and I relish collaborating with clients to get the words right to accurately reflect the ideals and character of their department. My intent is to get to the point where they say, “Yes! That says who we are and what we stand for.”
I have an MA in English and a BA in Communications and English.