Public Education Planning
I was teaching a class in public education planning at the National Fire Academy in the early 1980s for a group of Pennsylvania volunteer firefighters. It was intended to be their exposure to prevention topics over a weekend with a focus on the planning process for public education programs. Very similar to a CRR planning process, it all begins with a risk assessment so that a given community knows what problems are occurring and to whom.
I spoke to a firefighter who had been to very few fires; did no medical response; and could think of no hospitals, schools, or hazardous materials operations in his community that might present a significant risk of either regular emergency incidents or low frequency but very bad potential emergency incidents. These are the staples of a risk assessment: real (statistical) or potential risk problems. He finally landed on an incident where a pickup truck had driven through the general store as an example of a low frequency but very devastating emergency that constituted his local risk assessment.
When I checked back with him later in the day, he had designed a massive public education program to prevent future events of this nature. There were billboards; door hangers; local presentations; even television, radio, and newspaper advertisements – all designed to educate people so they would not drive through the general store ever again.
When I suggested that a concrete berm in front of the store might accomplish the objective more efficiently and effectively, he responded that he did not know he had that as an option. In other words, I had deliberately directed him toward one solution to his problem rather than having him consider all the safety options he had available.
The common “Es” of CRR include education, engineering, enforcement, economic incentives, and emergency response.
- Education is about educating people to prevent emergencies or to reduce their impact.
- Engineering refers to the mechanical solutions we can promote or mandate to help improve public safety, like air bags, seat belts, fire sprinklers, and smoke alarms.
- Enforcement assumes that we have mandated certain features like fire sprinklers and have an obligation to see that the community complies with the regulations. Or, we may mandate procedures like safe welding practices to reduce fire incidents. That’s still an enforcement approach.
- Economic incentive refers to the concept of using economics to stimulate safety actions, including fines for illegal fireworks or tax incentives for fire sprinkler systems.
Each of these strategies plays a role in the CRR planning process, and it’s up to the local community to conduct a risk assessment and figure out which combination of “Es” will work best.
It is a given that each locale will have an emergency response component – it is why people form fire departments. But is that our only tool? Consider this example of an integrated approach to CRR.
Why do we attempt to respond to an emergency like a fire within five minutes with four people? Is it to respond quickly? Is that why we measure our reliability in responding by stating goals like “we want to arrive within five minutes 90 percent of the time”? Or are we responding quickly to produce a particular outcome? It is the latter. We respond quickly with the right equipment and personnel so we can control the fire event and keep it from spreading. A more appropriate outcome measure would be to control the fire spread to the area of origin 90 percent of the time.
Speed of response is definitely a factor in that scenario, but so is a fire sprinkler system. So is building compartmentalization. So are smoke alarms systems. After all, if the building has been burning for 20 minutes before we get notified, a five-minute response is not going to do anywhere near as good a job for our desired outcome. Our goals are really about outcomes: the “why” we do things, not how we do them.
So, an integrated approach to CRR is actually about focusing on outcomes and finding the best combination of “Es” that will produce the best results. Sometimes that is an education program. Think youth firesetting and a project designed to keep matches and lighters out of the hands of small children. And sometimes it’s a concrete berm.
You’re the one who needs to conduct a risk assessment locally and figure out which combination of strategies will be the most efficient and effective. I guarantee that emergency response will always be part of the equation, but once you start considering the outcome you want to produce and broaden your view of what tools are available, you’ll be on the road to a true view of how an integrated approach to CRR can help you improve public safety in your own community.
Those who want to learn more about an integrated approach to CRR can visit the Vision 20/20 Web page where a link is provided to free online training at International Fire Service Training Association Resource One. (http://strategicfire.org/community-risk-reduction/ifstavision-2020-training/) And I always encourage people to take the courses at the National Fire Academy for a more in-depth education on the topic. Many are designed with fire operations personnel in mind, to make it relevant to this view of CRR.