USFA Administrators Give Parameters
Donald Bathhurst, USFA Deputy Administrator, noted that “both the workload and the potential for disaster [especially at the local level] are growing exponentially” for the fire protection community. He cited as factors that are “complicating” the situation “developments in emergency medical service (EMS) response; the increase in hazardous-materials transport and storage; and the possibility and, unfortunately, increasing actuality of terrorist activity.” Consequently, he explained, “the first responders in the community at the local level will bear the brunt of these challenges, and they therefore need the tools to be able to prepare for this array of hazards. The first task, then, is to recognize the hazards and develop appropriate response strategies at the local level.”
He asked the Forum participants to help the USFA “update the concepts and processes behind master planning: to identify what the USFA needs to do, from evolving the community infrastructure to improving their personnel training, to assist better state and local agencies in preparing themselves to meet future challenges.”
Referring to the USFA`s relationship with its parent organization, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Bathhurst observed that the relationship between the two “is at a very important point, in that FEMA`s director has embraced the concepts of an `all hazards,` unified approach of mitigation through built-in protection prior to an incident, and of other proven mitigation and preventative techniques, advocated by the fire service, such as sprinklers, architectural adaptations, and public education”–a philosophy that, Bathhurst said, is being incorporated into overall disaster preparedness activities. The initiative of “disaster-resistant communities” has localities assessing their multihazard exposure on a comprehensive basis–before disaster strikes–and preparing accordingly. The master planning process, he added, “helps give all of FEMA `a leg up` on that overall planning process, and working to improve master planning will help to facilitate the cross-pollination of USFA activities with the rest of their parent agency.”
USFA Fire Management Specialist John Cochran briefly summarized the history of master planning and past USFA activities. He explained that the USFA “has met with a good deal of success in developing concepts and methods nurturing master planning programs.” But, he noted that many of the USFA programs, including those on master planning, disappeared when the agency`s programs were “zero-funded” starting in the early 1980s.
“Other than the activities of and classes offered by the National Fire Academy (NFA),” he observed, “the USFA has not had much to do with master planning for the past decade or so.” And, he added, “With the ever-changing character of the delivery of fire service to local communities, the concept of planning is more important now than ever before, as the fire service has expanded beyond its traditional firefighting role to now encompass the activities and responsibilities of a local emergency services office.”
Cochran asked that Forum participants identify those facets of master planning that will affect a local community`s present and future fire protection plans.
Dr. Burt Clark, Management Science Program Chair at the NFA, observed that 14 of the 36 resident courses at the NFA and five of the 13 distance-learning courses address concepts involved in master planning. Also, Clark noted that the demand is for courses in the “hot topics” such as hazardous materials, arson, and terrorism; consequently, master planning gets pushed lower on the list of priorities. But, he said, the Academy “is making a conscious effort to address the key issues identified by the participants. Management is an ongoing process, however; you may not go to a fire every day, but you manage every day.” He also cited “the need to target more toward volunteer companies” as “one of the messages from the Forum.”
One obstacle identified by Clark was the difficulty in obtaining appropriate data. The fire service, he noted, is not data-driven. He contrasted this position with that of law enforcement. “The police are taught from the beginning that every piece of information is important to the success of the criminal-justice system ….” Clark said the NFA “Fire Service Communications” basic writing/public speaking course was introduced in an attempt to change this paradigm.
United States Fire Administrator Carrye B. Brown asked for “honest input” from Forum attendees. She noted, “While master planning can be an effective tool to help state and local officials respond to increasing multiservice requirements, as well as to help identify the level of services and resources necessary for such a response to occur, master planning cannot be successful unless it meets the specific needs of the local fire and rescue-service community.” Otherwise, she said, the plan will become “just another federal report that sits on a shelf, gathering dust.”
She asked participants to let the USFA know whether the concept of master planning has potential and, if it does, to let the USFA know that and how that potential can be realized. She also asked for their input concerning the kinds of training that might be beneficial for successful master planning.