By Lori Moore
Fire chiefs often interact with public officials (decision makers) who must work to balance community expectations and finite budget resources without a solid technical foundation for evaluating community risks and the impact of staffing and deployment decisions on the safety of the public and firefighters. Leaders’ hasty decisions can leave a community without sufficient resources to respond to emergency calls safely, efficiently, and effectively, which can leave individuals, fire departments, and communities vulnerable to unacceptable consequences. The Fire-Community Assessment/Response Evaluation System (FireCARES) uses big data analytics to provide a basic understanding of how changes in the levels of emergency resources deployed affect outcomes of emergencies.
Community risk assessment begins with the identification of the types and number of hazards in the community and the creation of summary hazard measures. Fire chiefs must assess an array of hazards, their associated risk levels, and the resources needed to respond to incidents affecting them. Once the details of hazards/risks are known, the fire department can plan and deploy resources to manage those risks and respond and mitigate emergency incidents when they occur.
Given that a hazard exists in a community, the consequences of an emergency are affected by the mitigation efforts. Consequences are a result of the combination of the duration and nature of event, property loss, personal injury or loss of life, economic loss, interruption of business and related operation, and damage to the environment. Consequences are grouped into four categories: Human impacts (civilian and firefighter injury and death), Economic impacts (direct and indirect property loss), Psychological impact (public confidence), and Functional impact (continuity of operations).
Prior to an incident, assess the risks and ensure that appropriate resources will be available to respond to future emergencies. Cost-effective resource decisions necessitate information on the cost/benefit of resource investments. This information includes the number and location of fire stations; the number, type, and location of fire apparatus; crew size; and preplanned alarm assignments. Resource allocation may also address community infrastructure such as roads, telecommunication systems, water/hydrants, utilities, hospitals, schools, and target hazards. Fire department response capability and capacity are a function of the community’s resource allocation and affect community vulnerability to fires and other emergencies. One could expect that a community with a sizeable and effective firefighting force would be less vulnerable to large negative consequences of fire than would a community with fewer resources allocated.
The risks of negative outcomes rise when fire department resources do not match community needs. Given the lack of available tools to assess this match, FireCARES provides decision makers a way to assess how well fire department resources deployed match community risks, thereby decreasing vulnerability to bad outcomes from fire and other emergencies.
Lori Moore-Merrell is an assistant to the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, in charge of data, research, and technical assistance. She has managed emergency response system evaluation project teams, including data procurement, geographic information systems (GIS) analysis, and work load analysis in hundreds of fire departments throughout North America. Previously, she was a firefighter/paramedic with the Memphis (TN) Fire Department. She holds a B.S. degree in education, a Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology, and a Doctor of Public Health degree in policy with expertise in quality performance measurement from the George Washington University School of Public Health. Her multiple affiliations include having served nine years as a member of the Commission for Fire Service Accreditation and as a current board member for the Center for Public Safety Excellence. She has been the recipient of many awards.