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All-Hazards Doesn’t Mean Plan for Everything


As fire service leaders, many of us are knighted to the position of emergency manager as well as being the fire chief. In becoming the emergency manager/fire chief, we’re tasked with doing all-hazards planning as this is one of the core beliefs of modern emergency management.

But just what does this mean? NFPA 1600: Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs lists approximately 45 categories in Annex A of potential hazards. Does this mean we have to do all-hazards planning for each and every one?

The question is not a baseless one. Many truly dedicated emergency managers believe that all-hazards planning means planning for every possible event. The simple fact is that this is impossible. No organization or jurisdiction has sufficient resources to do this, even if it were possible to foresee every hazard. There is always the unexpected.

There are two components of all-hazards planning.

The first component is doing a risk assessment of your jurisdiction. Risk assessment is a process for identifying potential hazards and risk exposures and their relative probability of occurrence. For those departments accredited through CFAI, they have done risk assessments (fires, hazmat, EMS, ARFF, technical rescue, marine/dive and ocean rescue).

However, most fire chiefs/emergency managers haven’t done a comprehensive risk assessment of their areas due to the lack of resources in their departments or lack of time. By doing a Threat, Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) of your area, you can identify the range of hazard and risk exposures that have impacted or may impact the entity, the surrounding area or the critical infrastructure supporting the entity.

Here are the steps for conducting a comprehensive risk assessment:

  1. Determine the methodology the department will use to conduct the assessment and whether the department has the necessary expertise to perform it.
  2. Consult with internal and external experts to assess the vulnerability of the department’s assets from identified hazards.
  3. Identify and categorize assets (such as human resources, buildings, equipment, operations, technology, suppliers and vendors).
  4. Identify threats and hazards: natural, human-caused (accidental and intentional) and technology-caused.
  5. Evaluate hazards and risks the department is exposed to.
  6. Assess the existing preventative measures and mitigation controls against credible threats.
  7. Categorize threats, hazard and risk exposures, and potential incidents by their relative frequency and severity. Keep in mind that there may be many possible combinations of frequency and severity for each, as well as cascading impacts.
  8. Evaluate the residual hazard and risk exposures—those that remain hazardous after prevention and mitigation activities.

The second component of all-hazards planning is the development of the capacity to deal with multiple hazards through functional planning.

This is where your department or emergency-management office develops a comprehensive emergency-management plan (CEMP) and continuity-of-operations plan (COOP).

The CEMP establishes a complete framework for a jurisdiction to plan the actions needed to protect the welfare of the community from the effects of emergencies and disasters. The plan defines the policies, organizational structure and responsibilities, as well as the operational concepts necessary for the jurisdiction to accomplish this purpose. The CEMP is also intended to be useful to the involved organizations during all phases of emergency management: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation.

A COOP should be developed to identify essential and critical functions and processes, their priorities and their internal and external interdependencies so recovery-time objectives can be set. Consideration should also be given to situations that cause a department to become incapable of response or incapable of maintain continuity of operations for the unforeseeable future.

Using a CEMP and COOP will create a baseline capability that not only can deal with anticipated risk, but can also be modified to deal with the unexpected.

All-hazards planning is a sound and proven concept, but it doesn’t mean that one must plan for every possible hazard. What it does mean, is that one should consider all possible hazards as part of risk analysis. Using a risk-based approach to planning, coupled with functional and prioritized contingency planning, makes the best possible use of limited resources.

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