As members of the fire service, it's important for us to identify community risk in order to improve our response and plan for community preparedness and risk reduction. Granted, this is a process that involves a lot of analysis and planning, but reducing community risk keeps everyone safe; citizens and safety responders alike. Creating a community risk reduction plan, implementing and monitoring it for any changes necessary isn't easy, but by balancing resources and using the 5 Es of community risk reduction will help you come up with a great plan to get all departments on board.
What is Community Risk Reduction?
Community risk reduction (CRR) is the identification and prioritization of risks followed by the coordinated application of resources to minimize the probability or occurrence and the impact of unfortunate events. For the fire service, this means that the fire department is for preventing or reducing the effect of emergencies as well as responding to the ones that do happen. As members of the fire service, we need to be acting proactively like a risk reduction entity for the community as a whole. CRR in the fire service also refers to communicating and coordinating with other community departments to accomplish risk-reducing objectives. No single department can do it alone. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
Assessing Community Risk
The first thing that needs to be done in any situation is to take a risk assessment for your community, which involves looking at a ton of data to see what kind of events are occurring most often and where. Looking at this incident data will allow us to make decisions based in fact about how we deploy, including the amount of stations we need, what kind of equipment should go where, and how much staff a station will need. Keep in mind that deployment of emergency response resources is the foundation of a CRR plan. However, a new problem occurs when we ONLY focus on emergency response.
"As members of the fire service, we need to be acting proactively like a risk reduction entity for the community as a whole"
It can be difficult to identify community risk, but we have so much data and plenty of tools at our disposal. There are plenty of other ways to research and provide public safety, or else we would've never dreamed up fire sprinklers, air bags in cars, or building compartmentalization. Some examples of other data to take into consideration during the identification process are as follows:
- Historical incident, crime, weather and traffic data
- Census data
- Demographic data
- FEMA data
- State data
- and more
Don't leave out the who. If you want to do more than respond, you must take a good look into who is involved in the incidents so you can focus your efforts at reducing the call volume. You should also look at where target hazards are located even if they don't result in a lot of calls because they still represent significant risks. Think hospitals ans schools. Looking at all of this data lays the foundation for a strong community risk assessment.
Reducing Community Risk
When you finish taking a look at your community data for your risk assessment and you've chosen risks to prioritize, you can decide what to do about the risks. There are 5 key components to a good CRR plan, and they all start with E.
Emergency Response is the big one, and the obvious one, but we need to keep in mind what changes in our emergency response deployment protocols will make the biggest difference for specific risks. IF for example your department gets more medical calls than anything, we should look at how that can affect our deployment models.
Engineering is an important part of reducing risk. Take a look at things like fire sprinklers and smoke alarms that reduce the risk of kitchen fires. These are examples of solutions through engineering. Think about how the risks in your community could be reduced by finding or creating things that can prevent incidents or lessen the damages if the incidents do occur.
Enforcement is involved when the community has passed laws giving us the power to enforce safety requirements. Think about how it's illegal to ride your bicycle without wearing a helmet, and the penalty for ignoring this law is a ticket, or that we can't shoot off fireworks when it's exceptionally dry outside. If we have a legislative strategy in place and the resources to enforce these laws, we are less likely to see a brush fire from fireworks taking up response vehicles, or an ambulance deployed when someone falls off of their bike and hits their head.
Education is a strategy that you can come at from a ton of different directions as long as you're educating people on safety. What we want to see is a community that understands and complies with safety ordinances by teaching them to prevent emergency incidents and mitigating damage if it does occur. Education can be measured, and stimulating action can lead to behavior changes in the community in regards to safety. Remember to find innovative new ways to educate people. When you stand in front of a group and give a seminar on public safety, some people won't learn anything at all.
Economic Incentive refers to providing motivation in exchange for safety compliance or disincentives for breaking or ignoring the laws. Giving people tax benefits for installing sprinklers in a public building for example will motivate people to comply. On the other hand, you can get fined for shooting fireworks when it's dry or if you're caught riding without a helmet. Either way, people are motivated by money.
Planning: Easier Said Than Done
"Focus on station-based plans and balance these against risks that are managed in different ways."
Remember that these are the basics for implementing a CRR plan. Each department will have different needs, so it's important to look at what resources you have and what hiccups you're experiencing in each jurisdiction and plan accordingly. Balancing your limited resources and using all the available "Es" are what constitute a plan, but what one department does may not be suitable or acceptable in another.
Essentially it means that the most important thing you can do is focus on station-based plans and balance these against risks that are managed in different ways.
Intterra's Situation Analyst is an exceptional tool when it comes to helping your community reduce risks and keep people safe. If you're interested in learning more about the Situation Analyst and how it can assist your department in creating a community risk reduction plan, feel free to drop us a line. We're always available to answer any questions you may have.