Risk Defined

Definitions of “risk” can be found in a variety of publications, reports and other sources. One definition is: human behavior, systems malfunctions, or an event that results in an ignition or other detrimental incident leading to a negative impact to life, property and/or natural resources. Another simple definition is: the potential or likelihood of an emergency to occur. A “risk assessment” simply asks, “How risky is the situation?”

Risks that affect a community on a regular basis can be human-created or naturally occurring. Examples include preventable injuries, fires and frequently occurring forms of severe weather. Examples of more uncommon risks that may occur every 5–20 years, might include domestic terrorism, hurricanes, earthquakes, and major hazardous materials releases.

Risk assessment is basically the identification of potential and likely risks within a particular community, and the process of prioritizing those risks. It is the critical initial step in emergency preparedness, which enables organizations to eventually mitigate (if possible), plan, prepare and deploy appropriate resources to attain a desired outcome.

Degrees of Risk Assessment

The community risk assessment process can be as complex and detailed as local resources permit. Or, using basic skills and resources available to most organizations, can be a more simplified process that will produce basic information that can be used effectively for a CRR program. Several people or a small team may be most effective in completing the assessment. Many communities have access to experts in assorted occupations that can be useful in the process. Often, these individuals and organizations are very willing to provide assistance to the local fire department. Based on individual capabilities, each fire department and community will need to determine the extent to which they will conduct their risk assessment process.

Purpose of this Guide

This guide will focus on the CRR steps involved in identifying and prioritizing risks, and the processes required for conducting a risk assessment in preparation for prevention and mitigation planning. The intent is to provide simple and easily understood guidelines for fire departments and/or other agencies to conduct a risk assessment of their community, with the ultimate goal of developing a local CRR program.