When the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) was established from the old Chief Fire Officers Association in 2017, one of its strategic commitments was to initiate a Community Risk Programme (CRP). Fire and rescue services (FRS) were given the freedom to create their own integrated risk management plans (IRMPs) in 2004. Since then, there has been a lot of divergence from the previous centralised approach. HMICFRS called this out in its recent three tranche inspection programme of FRS, noting that risk is defined differently across fire services, and that consistency would bring benefits to the public. Currently, it’s impossible to benchmark FRS against each other with inconsistent response standards and methodology behind the IRMP process.
At Process Evolution’s client conference in Worcester in November we were joined by Martin Ward-White, technical advisor to the community risk programme at the NFCC. The challenge, he said, is that there is no evidence-based toolkit to support services in developing their community risk management plans. This has resulted in inconsistent approaches, and limited good practice being recognised nationally.
The NFCC is now working on developing an evidence-based toolkit as part of their digital programme. While it will not dictate response times, it will provide standardised methodologies that enable consistent community risk identification, assessment, and mitigation strategies.
Martin was able to share some research carried out by Nottingham Trent University. A total of 43 FRS volunteered to have their IRMP methodologies scrutinised, and a further 30 international fire services also responded, predominantly from the US, Canada and Australia. “The danger is that if you have a community that is just focused on the UK, everyone draws methodologies and approaches from the same well,” said Martin. “We’re interested in what’s going on internationally too.”
The review aimed to find out what is necessary for UK FRS to move towards consistent assessment, planning and evaluation. There were several recommendations and observations arising from the research, including:
- Digital solutions should be created that support the methodologies. “They didn’t want the toolkit to be a document that will sit on the shelf and go out of date,” said Martin.
- The toolkit needs to support different understandings of predictive risk. For example, coastal areas, rural areas and cities will have different risk profiles.
- There is a lot of diversity in how FRS use data today, and FRS are relatively data-poor compared to other public services. FRS need to understand what data sets are available to better support decision making.
- Data is inconsistently recorded. For example, when measuring response times one FRS might start the clock when the call comes in, while another might start when the resource is mobilised. That makes it hard to compare figures.
- IRMP methodologies usually started out well, but sometimes deviated from a pure risk assessment when budgets and politics got involved.
- There is a wide variety in how risk interventions take place, including services with dedicated teams for the prevention and protection roles, and those where the role is integrated with response.
The biggest gap, however, was in evaluation and in delivering metrics that satisfy the requirements of central government, particularly with regard to assessing risk mitigation. “We need to give FRS tools to evaluate their activities more effectively,” said Martin. “That data will provide an evidence base for future funding discussions at a national level,” he added. The NFCC will be talking to government to better understand which models would provide acceptable data.
The community risk programme at NFCC is now undertaking eight research projects which will complete over the next couple of years. They will look at defining risk, producing IRMP guidance, understanding the economic risk of fire, sourcing data sets centrally, evaluation (including understanding the impact of response times), competencies for risk management planners, and risk assessment methodologies and interventions. The toolkit will be rolled out as elements become available, with HMICFRS requesting some deliverables by next April so they can use them for the next round of inspections this year.
“The toolkit may change based on testing with users,” said Martin. “We want to ensure the toolkit is fit for purpose and doesn’t just serve metropolitan FRS and leave rural and semirural areas behind. The best way to test and refine it is to put it into the hands of the people who will be using it, because they will find any faults with it, and make the best recommendations as well.”
We’d like to thank Martin for joining us and talking us through the NFCC’s plans. We will be following the community risk programme with interest.