NFPA Impact: Embracing true CRR for safety, efficiency
November 4, 2021
By Laura King
If you’re a chief, deputy, fire prevention officer, or fire and life safety educator, chances are you’ve jumped (or been pushed) onto the CRR bandwagon.
Community risk reduction is the fire-service equivalent of TikTok – everyone’s doing it but few excel at it, and even fewer use it to its full potential.
Some Canadian fire departments have embraced CRR to the extent that the fire prevention and public education division is now called the CRR division. Which is great, but only if those departments have changed their strategies and tactics and are actually doing CRR rather than simply using new words for an old process.
What is CRR, how does it work, and why should your department implement community risk reduction?
There are lots of reasons, but essentially, reducing risk in your municipality is far too important and significant an undertaking for a fire department to tackle alone. The CRR process, outlined in NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development, is a simple, collaborative, step-by-step guide to CRR. The standard is written with community partners in mind – it’s not a technical document – so everyone can work from the same set of instructions. CRR is not complex, but it’s a thorough process that is best undertaken with community partners who have expertise in areas specific to identified risks and target audiences.
CRR requires data, analysis, strategic planning, program development and implementation, communication, and evaluation – a big ask for a fire department no matter how large or sophisticated – but feasible with community partners.
In more detail, community risk reduction involves
- identifying a lead person or organization (not necessarily the fire department!)
- choosing CRR committee members
- conducting a community risk assessment to identify problems and prioritize risks
- figuring out the behaviour that causes or increases the risk (if applicable)
- determining the root cause of the behaviour, for example, removing a smoke alarm because it keeps chirping may be the result of lack of ability to read instructions
- identifying strategic partners
- establishing goals and objectives
- creating a timeline for implementation
- evaluating risk based the 5 Es – education, enforcement, economic incentives, engineering, and emergency response
- involving community partners who can reach the target audience(s)
- identifying the assets or attributes that the partners bring to the table
- developing a strategy, programs, and messages to target and, ultimately, change the identified behaviour
- creating and implementing programs based on the 5 Es
- communicating and marketing the CRR plan
- measuring program output and success
- evaluating programs based on the results of the data
- modifying programs as risks are mitigated or new risks are identified.
In Canada, many municipalities pay significant amounts of money to have consultants undertake community risk assessments – the first and most important step in CRR – and, subsequently, master fire plans. Sometimes, the results of the CRAs make their way into master fire plans, which, in my observation, rarely mention the 5 Es, program development, partnerships, root cause, or evaluation. In my experience, master fire plans are not community risk reduction plans.
A true community risk reduction plan identifies risks, outlines a system to find out why those risks exist, and defines a process to mitigate those risk through programs based on the five Es.
NFPA defines CRR as an all-hazards approach. According to the standard, it’s “a process to identify and prioritize local risks followed by the integrated and strategic investment of resources to reduce their occurrence and impact.”
CRR is not a new concept; long before NFPA 1300 was released in 2020, CRR was outlined in NFPA 1730, 1035, and 1452.
Now, the elephant in the room. CRR requires culture change. Community risk reduction necessitates that fire departments do some serious navel gazing and ask why certain training or response activities are funded and provided. If the answer is ‘Because we’ve always done it that way,’ but there’s no data that identifies a risk to support a particular response or pub-ed program, then the organization is not employing CRR.
Under CRR, programs include goals to be achieved through the elimination of specific risks.
Ultimately, from a fire department perspective, the point of CRR is to identify and determine the services to be provided to a community based on identified risks, and to maximize resources, budgets, training, personnel and, most critically, firefighter safety.
The bandwagon is parked out front.
Laura King is the NFPA’s public-education representative in Canada; she was the editor of Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter from 2007 to 2017. Contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @LauraKingNFPA.
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