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Coffee break Bulletin

Communitywide versus service area risk assessment

Posted: June 21, 2017

This bulletin covers the differences between communitywide risk assessments and service area risk assessments.

A risk assessment is a fact-based study of risks present in your community. It is the first and most important step toward deciding priority risk issues and target populations to address. An assessment helps your fire department to:

  • Justify why specific types of incidents and populations should be addressed.
  • Defend why it prioritized certain risks and populations to target with risk-reduction strategies.

Communitywide risk assessment

A communitywide risk assessment explores risk in the area that the entire department services.

Ensuring the completion of a communitywide risk assessment is the responsibility of a department’s senior management. It may be a task assigned to a Company Officer (CO) who is responsible for a communitywide service area.

Whether a department services a large or small population, it should begin the risk-assessment process by exploring what is going on communitywide.

A department that services a relatively small population base in a limited geographic area can use the results of a communitywide assessment for their data.

Service area risk assessment

A service area risk assessment explores risks in the area that the local fire station serves.

Leading a service area risk assessment is often the job of a CO. Prior to initiating a service area risk assessment, the CO should consult with the department’s leadership and inquire about the results of a communitywide assessment. The CO may learn that the department has already identified and prioritized risks to be addressed communitywide or in each service area.

For example, the department may identify cooking fires as a priority risk for the community at large. In contrast, a fire department in a large urban community may be working to reduce the occurrences of cooking fires citywide, but recognizes that youth firesetting is a growing problem in a specific station’s response area. The CO is asked by the department’s leadership to work within the station service area to reduce the occurrence of youth firesetting.

Identify risks through preplanning and knowledge of your response area. For example, there may be a critical facility in your service area that needs special attention so continuity of operation is maintained at all times. There could be special target-hazards that require additional attention because incidents at those locations could result in severe consequences. Station personnel are the eyes and ears of the service area and understand where the greatest risks are located.

Action steps for reducing community risk

Learn more about performing a community risk assessment by enrolling in the National Fire Academy’s six-day class, Leadership Strategies for Community Risk Reduction.

Join Fire Is Everyone’s Fight®, a national initiative to unite the fire service, life safety organizations and professionals in an effort to reduce home fire injuries, deaths and property loss by changing how people think about fire and fire prevention.

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