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Community Risk Reduction: Identifying the Risks

(Appeared in the December 2017 issue of The Dispatcher)

Last month, the focus was on the basics of risk assessment, which included the five areas of community vulnerability. The next step is to identify the community risks and review station-based information. 

The best gauge of community risk is to look at emergency responses within the community to identify the responses that have the greatest frequency for injury, death or property loss. This picture of the community will help later in determining resources and predicting service needs. 

It is best to start with the statistics. Large fire departments should look at the last year, while smaller departments may want to scan through the last couple years due to fewer responses. These statistics should look at all responses, not just fire, to see which risk affects the community most. 

Next, it is important to examine the risk groups and determine what can be prevented and what would need mitigation to reduce the risk. When exploring the instance of structure fires, results may show cooking fires are the highest risk. With this identified, further research is needed to see if there are any patterns – for example, cooking fires in elderly housing complexes or in college off-campus housing. Looking into the near miss fires like burnt food, may signal a future cooking fire.

At this point, it is important to look at geographic information (GIS) to graph the fires to determine if we can engage the local fire station to assist with risk assessment. Their input may help with identification, classification and prevention outreach to the community. Remembering the 5 E’s (Education, Engineering/Technology, Enforcement, Economic Incentives and Emergency Response) of prevention is key to employ prevention before emergency response. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

The station officer should look at every response as an opportunity to employ the community risk reduction strategy to assist with risks within a specific area (low-income housing, college campus, industrial park, elderly housing, subdivisions, or shopping districts). Events in these areas may not match the whole community. It is necessary to also check for issues that may signal a change in risk behavior not reflected in the overall responses. This could include pedestrian injuries at a specific intersection or near a school. It may not be the greatest risk to the community, but it is to that specific area.  

The station officer can make a great impact in their area by identifying not only risks, but by reaching out to that localized community and identifying individuals and organizations that are stakeholders. Part of their job is to involve the community because the fire department will not have the resources to do this on their own. The station officer commands respect within the community and is the face of the fire department. If they do not reach out to the local community, they may miss out on opportunities for the community to assist in the future.

The goal of community risk reduction is to reduce the risk of injury, death and property loss. It is important to remember that this is a community effort. Reduction of risk will reduce response and preserve resources for mitigation of risk not easily prevented including tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and lightning.

For more information on community risk reduction, visit the Vision 20/20 Web site at www.strategicfire.org. For training, view courses provided by Vision 20/20 and the National Fire Academy at www.usfa.fema.gov. For information on disaster preparedness and recovery, visit www.ready.gov.

Remember, we all play a part in reducing the risk of loss and injury through prevention and mitigation. For more information on how fire sprinklers save lives and property, please contact Marty King at [email protected] or visit www.nfsawi.org, www.nfsa.org, and www.homefiresprinkler.org.

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