(Appeared in the November 2017 issue of The Dispatcher)

Last month, the definition of Community Risk Reduction (CRR) was introduced. Let’s examine the next step: the basics of risk assessment. It begins with an objective look at the community and its vulnerability. This may include looking at numerous factors such as community preparedness, the capacity of emergency services, access to the community for response/mitigation resources, and financial impact. During this stage, it is important to engage community input to assure an objective assessment.

There are five areas of community vulnerability: human, economic, social, political, and environmental. Human vulnerability includes the displacement of residents from the community and the potential for personal injury or death due to the event. It should look at the human suffering caused by displacement, property loss, injury or death, financial loss, and uncertainty of the future. While this may be hard to quantify, it must be considered as a factor within the risk assessment. It also should consider the impact to the emergency responders who may be affected by the event.

Economic vulnerability looks at the cost to provide emergency services, cost to repair or replace property or infrastructure, cost and availability of insurance, lost tax revenue, lost wages, and medical costs. Often the community may look at the costs to provide prevention and emergency services, but they forget to look at the impact when the event occurs. The loss of a major employer or roadway, whether it be short-term or permanent, is a significant loss to any community.

Social vulnerability covers the negative effect on the social fabric of the community. This may result in the need to provide stability to the community by providing additional resources. These resources may include supplemental law enforcement personnel due to an increase in crime or mental health and social services because of a large-scale natural disaster. Recent disasters (including the wildfires on the west coast and the hurricanes in the south) show the demands the members of the community expect from government. (Note: I am assuming those are the disasters he is referring to. I think it makes it a stronger point and easier for people to visualize).

Political vulnerability includes the costs of passing or not passing legislation that impacts the health and life safety of the community. Unfortunately, large loss events have had to occur before there is a change in public policy. The Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island where 100 people died is an example of a change in the fire and building codes. However, we still see subsequent changes impacting health and life safety due to economic costs to provide protection and short memories of these tragic events.

Finally, we have environmental vulnerability, which includes the temporary or permanent damage to the environment. This may include drought, wildfires, floods, and spills.

The evaluation that is performed based upon these factors must include the frequency of risk occurrence and the impact the loss caused (property damage, reduction of community vitality, injury and loss of life). This information will give you the basis for a CRR.

For more information on CRR, visit the Vision 20/20 Web site at www.strategicfire.org. For training, view courses provided by Vision 20/20 and the National Fire Academy at www.usfa.fema.gov. For information on disaster preparedness and recovery, visit www.ready.gov.

Remember, we all play a part in reducing the risk of loss and injury through prevention and mitigation. For more information on how fire sprinklers save lives and property, please contact Marty King at [email protected] or visit www.nfsawi.org, www.nfsa.org, and www.homefiresprinkler.org.