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Sizing Up Your Community Risk

It has been well accepted in recent times that fire departments across the United States are being becoming all-hazard providers. The fire and emergency service delivery model—being able to mobilize resources rapidly to respond to any hazard—makes an all-hazards approach a natural extension for deployment paradigms.

The natural extension of an all-hazards approach is to undertake a formalized risk and hazard assessment of the community you serve. This assessment provides a foundation for identifying the types and levels of risk and the requirements for its response and mitigation.

Your first steps should be aimed at identifying community risk. You can accomplish this via numerous methodologies and approaches. Start by looking at your community's historical demand for service: what has been the most prevalent risk or need that has activated a request for your services?

What parts of your community's critical infrastructure, if it was damaged or destroyed, would hamper or severely impact the community's continuity of operations? These may include transportation networks; economic drivers such as financial institutions and major employers; governmental and religious institutions; water and energy plants; and hospitals. These are just some aspects to consider, but by no means an exhaustive list; stakeholder input is essential for a holistic approach in completing this assessment.

Consider natural threats your area may be susceptible to by conducting a long-range historical review. Potential events such as coastal flooding, hurricanes, ice storms, tornadoes and heat waves should be identified, as well as their probability and potential impacts.

Consider such things as hazmat storage areas, areas prone to technical-rescue needs and any other first-responder demands to provide an inclusive look at where you anticipate risk may lie. Additionally, potential manufactured threats must be analyzed; partnerships with local law enforcement serve as an excellent resource in identifying a threat-vulnerability matrix.

In today's constrained economic times, it's also an essential component of a risk and hazard assessment to model potential fiscal impacts to a community with any disruption to its infrastructure or essential public services. For example, the economic impact of disabling a local mass-transit system may be substantial.

Considering this aspect also allows for fiscal cost/benefit valuations about the importance of the local government investing in public safety to protect the financial vitality of its community—a return on investment, if you will.

Once your agency has completed a comprehensive community risk assessment and has identified potential hazards that may confront emergency responders, you can develop a response plan that balances the resources and response needed. The plan should identify the type and amount of resources necessary to respond to the different levels of risk you identified.

Your response matrix also serves as an excellent planning tool for identifying training and specialized equipment and resource needs, which will vary with the nature and magnitude of the risk or hazard you're responding to.

It also lends itself to developing collaborative partnerships that may be needed to effectively respond cohesively as the level of risk escalates or exceeds fire department internal capacities. This preplanning tool allows for a more regionalized approach to all-hazard planning and identifies resource needs before an event occurs.

Going through this process of risk assessment fosters preincident planning and resource identification, allowing for an effective and coordinated response when it's needed during an actual event.

Todd LeDuc, MS, CFO, CEM, MIFireE, is an assistant fire chief for Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff Fire Rescue. He’s also a director at large for the Safety, Health and Survival Section and a member of the IAFC On Scene editorial advisory board.

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