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Fire department preparedness and response to non-fire emergencies

The resources on this page will help enhance your fire department’s level of preparedness and response to non-fire emergencies and natural disasters.

The public relies on first responders during emergencies, and the more substantial the incident or the disaster, the greater the need for assistance delivered by the fire department and others with public safety missions.

Research update

USFA is working with the National Association of State EMS Officials to study COVID-19-revealed issues related to continuity of operations and emergency responder health and safety during a pandemic. Estimated release date: October 2021.

Until this new study is published, please refer to the recently updated Information for First Responders on Maintaining Operational Capabilities During a Pandemic.

Coronavirus: updates for EMS and first responders

Find out what the latest infection control and prevention recommendations are for EMS personnel when encountering patients with suspected Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) symptoms.

Read the recommendations

Active shooter preparedness

Review the content below for products, tools and resources to help you prepare for and respond to an active shooter incident.

Recommended content

Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2018 (FBI)
A report on the 27 shootings that the FBI designed as active shooter incidents in 2018.
Active Shooter Preparedness – First Responder (U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
Products, tools and resources to help you prepare for and respond to an active shooter incident. See also: Human Resources or Security Professional
Homegrown Violent Extremist Mobilization Indicators 2019 Edition (The National Counterterrorism Center)
A road map of observable behaviors that could inform whether individuals or groups are preparing to engage in violent extremist activities.
National Fire Academy Incident Management Curriculum (Federal Emergency Management Agency/USFA)
Several courses with simulations and case studies that walk you through incident management of an active shooter event.
Securing Soft Targets and Crowded Places (U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
Resources focused on improving security and implementing protective measures.

Community outreach

Active Shooter (Ready.gov)
Tips for community members to follow if they are involved in an active shooting event.
Active Shooter: What You Can Do (Federal Emergency Management Agency/Emergency Management Institute)
This online, independent study course provides the public with guidance on how to prepare for and respond to active shooter crisis situations.
Active Shooter Preparedness: Private Citizen (U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
Outreach materials to raise awareness of active shooter incident indicators and how to respond.

Response to civil unrest

man throwing a Molotov cocktail with fire in the background

Civil unrest best practices

General guidance for fire and EMS to prepare personnel, the station, apparatus and the community for emergency response in a challenging environment.

Learn about best practices

Hazardous materials


oil pipeline

New pipeline preparedness toolkit for fire departments

The Fire Department Pipeline Response, Emergency Planning, and Preparedness Toolkit provides resources to help fire departments conduct pre-incident planning, increase preparedness and improve response.

Read the article

Operational Lessons Learned in Disaster Response

A study of after action reviews from major disasters of the past decade to gain insight into lessons learned.

While after action reviews produce valuable lessons, lessons alone are not the end of the story. In fact, lessons learned should rightly be the beginning of a new chapter in a fire department’s operational behaviors. Lessons without a corresponding change in operational behavior are not lessons learned.

Operational Lessons Learned in Disaster Response

This report identifies gaps and needs in first responder training and resources and presents solutions that serve to better prepare local-level fire services for all-hazard events and to interact with federal resources. The disasters studied were weather-related events that required responding firefighters to assume duties for which they were unprepared or for situations they never anticipated.

Download "Operational Lessons Learned in Disaster Response"

PDF 2.5 MB EPUB 18.1 MB

Topics covered include:

  • Resource and logistics management.
  • Training, testing and exercising.
  • Warning and notification.
  • Assessing staffing requirements.
  • Mutual aid.
  • Large-scale event incident command issues.
  • Critique and evaluation methods for organizational learning.

Fire service operations during the 2011 Southeastern tornadoes

On April 27, 2011, a devastating series of tornadoes struck Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. An estimated 336 lives were lost in the region’s tornadoes and related events. At least 10,000 homes were heavily damaged or destroyed and dozens of public facilities were rendered inoperative.

A series of meetings was held in the summer of 2011 to look at fire department and EMS organization activities. Over 50 representatives of impacted departments attended and each had an opportunity to respond to specific questions as well as provide a free range of their own inputs.

This report condenses those meetings and inputs and provides an insight into the routines, challenges and needs of local fire and EMS agencies during preparation for, response to and recovery from, natural disasters.

More information on non-fire emergencies