Safety and Health: All-Hazards Response and Scenario Planning

When the first paid municipal fire department was formed in 1853, its primary and perhaps only focus was making sure that the predominantly wooden cities with sawdust streets didn’t burn to the ground. However, over the past generation or more, as the hazard of fire in the built environment has diminished, fire-based organizations have continued to expand their services into all-hazards response.

This isn’t a new concept, so what’s the point of talking about it yet again? It’s not about the past; it’s about scenario-planning for the future.

One planning process is called the Cone of Plausibility. “The process can be used to look at short-, medium- or long-term futures, but is particularly suited to short-term horizons where there are a limited number of drivers” (UK Government Office of Science).

The technique is not difficult to implement once the key drivers have been identified, the assumptions have been adjusted and the scenarios are built from this framework.

What is driving response in the jurisdiction you serve? It’s quite likely that the list includes aging residents with limited access to health care, a deteriorating transportation infrastructure that makes make mobility more hazardous, and changes in climate and other environmental factors that increase the likelihood that flooding and wind will compromise the places people live, work and play.

What are the assumptions for your organization from a response perspective? That list may include the fact that the budget your organization will be operating with is more likely to shrink than grow. The skills your organization’s members have acquired for the purpose of suppressing fires may or may not be applicable to the all-hazard risks your jurisdiction will face. The tools, equipment and plan established for suppressing fires may not help you address incidents that are much larger and much more devastating than a house fire.

Scenario planning is a concept that is more expansive than strategic planning, but it’s very applicable when an organization is seeking to prepare for all-hazard response. This planning process needs to include more than the organizational higher-ups. The process must include the community, policy makers, operations leadership and front-line responders as well as those responsible for logistical support.

While it’s obvious that not every organization can have a scenario for every situation, there’s little doubt that just preparing for a declining number of fires is less than optimum.

An effort of this nature may require facilitated discussion; however, the hazards that face communities across the world won’t change in terms of their frequency or severity just because the fire department shows up.

Something our organizations can control is the depth and breadth of the planning and training we do for the hazards our organizations, their members and our communities are most vulnerable to.

All-hazards response begins with all-hazards planning, and scenario planning is an excellent option for that effort.



UK Government Office for Science. Scenario Planning (PDF). Retrieved October 16, 2017. 


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