Leading Preparedness for Local Fire Agencies

pdfSteven R. Goble


President Barack Obama directed the development of a national preparedness strategy that is set out in Presidential Policy Directive 8: National Preparedness (PPD-8). The applicability of PPD-8 and the implementing strategies for fire agencies is in question; and the relevance and benefits of the guidance are ambiguous. If the guidance is applicable, it is incumbent upon the fire service to establish a functional means for managing preparedness. Without a systematic means of doing so, preparedness principles will continue to be inconsistently applied, [1]  the fire service will remain reactionary and planning will be influenced by “flavor-of-the-month” decision-making leading to continued lack of unifying goals.  [2]  The homeland security mission reaches beyond emergency response and fire prevention for fire departments, which requires a better understanding of the role in this evolving enterprise.

This thesis is the product of a qualitative research approach to understand better the role of the fire service in disaster preparedness. Analytical and applied research methods were used to study the following questions:

  • Is PPD-8 and its implementing strategies relevant and beneficial to local fire departments?
  • How can preparedness strategies based on the tenets of PPD-8 be implemented for the fire service and local fire departments, including the Henderson Fire Department?

The relevance and benefit of the guidance was evaluated through the analysis of 1) homeland security guidance documents including PPD-8 and its implementing frameworks, strategies, and reports, and 2) public policy research and journal articles by authors with subject matter expertise in the fields of homeland security and the fire service. The relevance and benefit of the national preparedness guidance to the fire service is best understood through a “what can be” lens. The benefit is dependent on the level of engagement.

It was found that the fire service could add capacity and preparedness expertise for preparedness by building and sustaining additional core capabilities within local fire departments. Additional capabilities have been delivered by some fire departments in mission areas other than response for national preparedness. [3]  The prevention mission can be enhanced through intelligence and information sharing gathered through unique access to businesses and residences afforded while delivering traditional services. [4]  The protection mission can be positively impacted by screening, search and detection at critical infrastructure, for key leadership, and events. Fire and building codes that guide building construction and maintenance enhance mitigation. Fire service providers have a role in pre-disaster planning, short term, intermediate, and long-term recovery by continuing to respond to emergencies and facilitating other aspects of recovery.

This thesis explored the status quo of the national leadership and possible alternatives to advance preparedness for local fire departments including Henderson. Existing preparedness strategies were studied for potential application to local fire agencies.  A comparative analysis of a capability-based approach and a standards-based approach as a management system was also performed. These two models were evaluated to develop a proposal that meets the goals outlined in PPD-8 and to help build consistency in fire service efforts for preparedness. The Henderson Fire Department in Nevada was examined as a prototype that informs the inquiry

It was found that the problems of inconsistency and lack of accountability could be attributed to a void in leadership of the fire service with respect to homeland security at the national level. There are agencies and initiatives that provide advisory guidance including the United States Fire Administration (USFA), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), [5]  and the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI). However, these groups lack the authority to hold the fire service accountable to a prescribed, as yet undefined, mission for homeland security preparedness. Establishing leadership at the national level would allow the fire service to unite behind a singular vision, clarify its mission, and define a consistent strategy for preparedness. The USFA is uniquely positioned to provide this leadership and oversight if granted the necessary authority. The USFA would establish the vision, define the mission, and develop the strategies to guide the fire service as it builds preparedness. The USFA would consequently guide expansion of the role of the fire service to produce tangible benefit while minimizing impacts to essential service delivery.

The management of preparedness in the fire service requires applicable management systems that can be adapted to the complexities of preparedness. Management systems standards are generally a uniform set of measures, agreements or conditions, or specifications that establish performance objectives that address management themes. [6]  The capability-based planning approach is valuable as an operational tool for establishing resources and methods for preparedness but it lacks overarching principles for program management. [7]  The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) outlines a management system standards approach in NFPA 1600: Standard for Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity (NFPA 1600) that provides a familiar model for fire departments.

The results of this analysis can be useful to the policy makers of local fire agencies, including the Henderson Fire Department, in terms of informing decisions regarding resource allocation, operational practicality, and the social acceptability of participation in preparedness for their communities. In addition, the information derived from the management system analysis was synthesized into a model for a hybrid management system standard combining sound elements from the National Preparedness System with NFPA 1600 for use by the fire service including the Henderson fire department. It offers an alternative leadership strategy to advance the preparedness mission within the fire service.   



[1] U.S. Government Accountability Office, FEMA Lacks Measures to Assess How Regional Collaboration Efforts Build Preparedness Capabilities (GAO-09-651) (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2009), 1–41.

[2] Peter J. May, Ashley E. Jochim, and Joshua Sapotichne, “Constructing Homeland Security: An Anemic Policy Regime,” Policy Studies Journal 39, no. 2 (May 2011): 285–307.

[3] Fire Department of New York, “FDNY Counterterrorism and Risk Management Strategy 2011,” 2011, http://www.nyc.gov/html/fdny/pdf/publications/FDNY_ct_strategy_2011_12.pdf.

[4] International Association of Fire Chiefs, Homeland Security: Intelligence Guide for Fire Chiefs (Fairfax, VA: IAFC, n.d.).

[5] “About IAFC” accessed October 5, 2014, http://www.iafc.org/About/index.cfm?navItemNumber=537.

[6] Sharon L. Caudle, “National Preparedness Requirements: Harnessing Management System Standards,” Homeland Security Affairs 7, art. 14 (June 2011), https://www.hsaj.org/?article=7.1.14.

[7] FEMA, Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans: Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101 (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, 2010), http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1828-25045 0014/cpg_101_comprehensive_preparedness_guide_ developing_and_maintaining_emergency_operations_plans_2010.pdf.

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