Community risk reduction (CRR) is all about the process. And, any local CRR plan using identical process steps can produce different results. Let me explain why.
All CRR planning begins with a risk assessment, which in turn can drive local decisions very differently (Figure 1). As I’ve written before, a risk assessment that focuses on emergency operations typically involves an analysis of incident data. The call type; frequency; location; and time of day, week, month, or year can help in planning for station locations and the equipment and staffing necessary to meet the challenges the incidents represent to a given community.
But in any community, risk from one area may be very different from another. This example from the Wilmington (NC) Fire Department shows frequency of calls by area, helping to pinpoint portions of the community that need help more often (Figure 2). When we break the call types down further, we can find information like one part of the community runs frequently on student housing and cooking fires, another one falls at assisted living centers, and another area has lower call volume but covers major industrial areas that don’t have high demand but represent a significant potential for high loss should a fire occur. In other words, the risks often vary.
Incident type, frequency, and location will help us plan for emergency operations, which, for the record, is part of our overall CRR strategy—and always will be.
Know The Community
Now, consider what happens when we want to get ahead of the call. The call type, frequency, and location all help us to focus proactive efforts at managing call volume and reducing community risks. But who are the people involved, and what do they think?
Learning about the people in local communities can produce very different CRR planning results. Wouldn’t it be important to know that the audience is largely Hispanic immigrants? Or Russian? Or from northern Africa? Of course. Our approach, our language used, and the way we reach people can be very different depending on whom we are trying to reach.
And, even within specific groups, we can’t make generalized assumptions that we know what they will like and what they won’t. A case in point happened to me in the late 1980s when I was planning a smoke alarm installation campaign for a largely African-American audience in a part of Portland, Oregon, where I worked. I assumed they would welcome firefighters installing alarms but learned through additional research that they would not welcome the firefighters into their homes. They did not trust the fire department for a variety of reasons.
We were steered toward using community partners who already had credibility with this part of our community, and they (the partners) installed the alarms with our logistical and physical support. We gained ground on healing relationships with the African-American community during that campaign but would never have known how to proceed without a thorough risk assessment that included learning about the people affected.
Ironically, at the same time another large jurisdiction going through the same planning process and identifying the same type of audience (African American) found very different attitudes. They learned that this portion of their community had little trust in their neighbors and, in fact, were far more likely to trust the members of the fire department to enter their homes.
Same process, very different results. Call types can be different. People can be different. Attitudes can be different. And all of these factors will help shape our efforts to reduce risks in any of our communities. Before we begin strategizing about what to do, we need to know as much as possible about what problems we face, where they are, and the people impacted by those problems.
My thanks to Wilmington Fire Department personnel for sharing the information; they are great supporters of these concepts and work hard at them despite the challenges the real world puts in anyone’s way who embarks on a CRR planning process. And if readers want to start learning more about their local community, they can begin by using the census data from the United States Census Bureau (Figure 3). But recognize there is no better way to find out more then reaching out and talking to the people impacted. I think you’ll find they want to help make things better, and you begin to cement real partnerships when you work together on solving problems.
Jim Crawford, FIFireE, is project manager for Vision 20/20 and a retired fire marshal and deputy chief of the Vancouver (WA) Fire Department. He is a member of the NFPA technical committee on professional qualifications for fire marshals, a former member of the Standards Council for the NFPA, a fellow of the Institution of Fire Engineers, a life member of the IAFC, and past president of the International Fire Marshal’s Association. Crawford is the author of Fire Prevention Organization and Management and is an editorial board member of FireRescue. He has received the R. Wayne Powell Excellence in Fire Prevention Award, the Dr. Anne Phillips award for leadership in fire and life safety education from the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the International Fire Service Training Association, the “Fire Protection Person of the Year” from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and the Percy Bugby Award from the International Fire Marshal’s Association.