Firefighters get to know their communities intimately — they go inside people’s homes on medical calls and drive their streets daily. They see what hazards exist and work to create solutions that save lives.
Community risk reduction is a way of doing just that. It’s preparedness at its best.
Identifying and Prioritizing Risks
The first step in the CRR process involves identifying and prioritizing risks. There are a number of ways to do this, but the most common is using risk/consequence or risk/probability matrixes that help identify potential risks and prioritize them for future action. These can be based on event type, frequency of events, resources needed, and other relevant criteria.
Another way to identify and prioritize risks is through community involvement. This could be through outreach programs that involve community members or working with local government to draft and promote legislation aimed at reducing risks in the area. It can also include addressing risk-related issues that aren’t directly fire department-related, such as traffic accidents or illegal dumping.
Finally, it can include utilizing an Engineered Response that addresses the risk by mitigating it before it happens. This could be through the installation of sprinkler systems, smoke alarms or other heat-regulating technologies that reduce the risk of fires in residential properties. This can be a very cost-effective and long-lasting solution to a fire-related issue that can improve overall community safety.
All of these efforts are part of the new approach to public safety that is often referred to as . While fire prevention and inspections will always be a part of most departments, CRR goes much further by embracing all of the other important responsibilities that emergency services agencies must address to serve their communities safely.
It can help fire departments of all sizes and locales, from the largest urban fire departments to small rural volunteer and combination departments that must work with limited resources to do their best. By developing a comprehensive and successful community risk reduction program, fire departments can ensure that their efforts focus on the best possible outcomes for civilians and firefighters.
It can help them become more prepared for the influx of calls they’ll receive when the storm hits, wildfires erupt, or earthquakes occur. By focusing on their local community’s most pressing risk-reducing needs, fire departments can be the heroes they’re meant to be in the times that matter most.
Developing a CRR Plan
Fire departments are becoming increasingly aware that their community role goes beyond responding to 911 calls. Whether it’s working with local governments, organizations, or citizens to identify risks and create solutions that minimize them, fire departments have a significant role to play in reducing risk and improving civilian and firefighters’ safety in their communities. That’s why more fire departments are taking a different approach to achieving their mission than just conducting fire prevention activities like sprinkler installations and car seat inspections. They’re embracing the concept of community risk reduction (CRR), which takes a more holistic approach to improving civilian and firefighter safety by focusing on the causes of incidents rather than their consequences.
The best way to do this is by developing a CRR plan with community partners that addresses true risks, not perceived ones. A solid plan is based on current and historical data, including geographic information, building reports, emergency response logs, lifestyle insights, economic patterns, and other relevant information. The process is outlined in NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development.
For many fire departments, the problem is that they gravitate toward issues and problems that are directly fire service related. Limiting yourself to these concerns not only cripples your CRR efforts but reduces your daily value in the community (“A Call for Fire Departments to Remain Relevant”). It also means you miss out on gaining the trust needed to promote and implement accepted change.
Once a risk is identified, the department needs to develop a plan to mitigate it through one of the six CRR responses: Engineered Response, Enforcement Response, Education Response or Economic Incentive Response. Engineered responses may involve introducing technologies such as smoke alarms, heat-regulating technology, and other safety measures to prevent incidents. Education Response involves providing educational materials to change behaviors and beliefs. Enforcement Response involves enforcing laws and regulations to mitigate risks. Economic incentive responses may include monetary rewards for risk-reducing activities.
The biggest challenge in implementing these programs is that they require a shift in culture within the fire service, from an all-or-nothing approach to one of cooperation and collaboration. This requires fire chiefs and command staff to see past their immediate risks and become leaders in the community that help solve its problems. It also requires them to be present and engaged in all the community’s concerns, attending meetings with community groups, media outlets and citizens as often as possible. This is where the real value in a department begins and where lasting change is made.
Creating a CRR Alliance
If you have been in the fire service for any length of time, chances are you have heard of community risk reduction (CRR). While most people associate CRR with visiting schools and discussing “stop, drop, and roll,” a more accurate description of this outreach would be a comprehensive and integrated program based on real-world data designed to prevent incidents or reduce their impact.
The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) definition of CRR is an ongoing process of identifying and prioritizing risks to a community, creating solutions, and coordinating resources to minimize the probability of those events occurring or lessen their impact. This is a significant shift from the traditional fire department stance of waiting to respond to 911 calls and hoping that nothing bad happens in the meantime.
To be successful, CRR requires the participation of all stakeholders. Whether you’re in an urban, suburban, or rural community, the best approach to developing a CRR plan involves building partnerships with key individuals and groups. These partners will help you develop educational programs, promote new ways of reducing risk, and support economic incentives for those who make wise decisions regarding their safety.
This process also helps you develop a community of stewards who will share information with their friends and neighbors and will work to spread the word about your efforts. They will also help you identify new risks and create opportunities for you to implement innovative, cost-effective solutions.
The best CRR plans also use data and other intelligence to develop insights that will inform the community of potential hazards, risks, causes, and consequences. This type of information is often gathered through a Community Risk Assessment (CRA), which uses a variety of current and historical data to get a clear picture of the community and its vulnerabilities, including demographics, building reports, emergency response logs, lifestyle insights, and economic patterns.
While many fire departments are already active in the CRR effort, some have embraced this paradigm shift slowly. Some have a hard time letting go of the “we’re here to respond when the bell rings” mentality, others worry about competing for limited resources with other public safety agencies, and still more may feel that it takes away from their day-to-day value. The most successful fire departments build and nurture strong partnerships that allow them to contribute to the development of other risk-reduction solutions.
Educating the Community
Fire department members can be key players in community risk reduction, bringing their knowledge of the local culture and leaders to the table and how residents might function during an emergency. They can also serve as a resource for those seeking to improve their home’s safety and reduce its vulnerability by providing information on smoke alarm installation, evacuation plans, disaster kits, etc. Additionally, their interaction with residents can provide valuable data to the EM planners and other officials involved in creating an effective disaster plan for the community.
Community Risk Reduction (CRR) is an evolving concept in the modern fire service, where firefighters have shifted from responding to call after call to proactively taking steps to prevent emergencies before they occur. NFPA defines CRR as “programs, actions, and services that address local risks, prioritized by the community, through an integrated and strategic investment of resources to minimize their occurrence and impact.”
The most important part of this effort is engaging with community members to identify and understand their own risks and how they can prevent them. Often, these conversations can be challenging when the fire department is asked to address issues that don’t fall within the traditional scope of its responsibilities.
However, those who are forward-thinking can take an active role in engaging the public and educating them about these concerns, particularly when they are based on the results of a fire department’s own investigations or inspections. For example, some fire departments use their fire trucks to visit at-risk neighborhoods and educate residents about putting together a disaster kit or installing smoke detectors as an alternative to their traditional “stop, drop, and roll” approach.
Another way to engage the community is by working with senior centers, ethnic organizations, youth groups, and other community-based entities that can help share important messages and information. Community risk reduction includes education, engineering, and enforcement, which means that fire departments should strive to develop a variety of ways to promote their message and engage the community. These could include school programs, brochures, social media, and presentations.