Planning Group Development

There are a number of benefits to developing a planning group or coalition. By establishing partnerships with key stakeholders, risk issues go beyond just a fire department problem, and ultimately involve the whole community. A good planning group brings in additional ideas, people, and resources that can contribute substantially to the process. The various tasks of developing a plan and implementing the solutions can be shared among the members of the group.

There are a couple of options to be considered when deciding to develop a coalition. After your community risk assessment has been completed, and the problems identified, you will need to determine which of the following options should be applied:

  1. The planning group or coalition is invited to assist the fire department in determining the community risk priorities that should be addressed in the CRR plan, and then participates in the remaining processes.
  2. Alternatively, after the fire department has identified and prioritized the community risks, the planning group is responsible for developing the mitigation strategies and tactics, as well as the plan implementation.

Whichever option you decide, will need to be determined by local resources and conditions.

Recruitment of CRR Coalition Members

When soliciting or recruiting for members of the coalition, the success of your program will depend on engaging the right mix of people and organizations, which have a genuine interest and desire to participate. Typically, there are two types of stakeholders:

  1. Those involved in developing and implementing the CRR plan (e.g., sponsors, partners, community organizations, fire department staff, etc.).
  2. Stakeholders served or affected by the CRR program (e.g., community residents, advocacy groups, elected or appointed officials, neighborhood associations, etc.).

Stakeholders served or affected by the program should reflect an accurate demographic representation of the community by:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Income
  • Language
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Sexual orientation

Including the right individuals and organizations in your coalition enables them to present their unique perspectives. This can also help to minimize or eliminate potential criticism or resistance to the program which can occur when community members are not adequately represented in the process.

If you have identified the risks and priorities to present to potential group members, it will be important to have documented these and to have created a clearly defined set of goals and objectives for the coalition (unless you have decided to have the group determine these). This is best put in writing, and should include at least:

  • A prioritized description of the problems identified in the risk assessment.
  • A list of the goals and objectives of the CRR coalition.
  • Expectations and level of commitment desired from the members (e.g., frequency of meetings, etc.).

Appendix A, “CRR Coalition Membership Prioritization Tool” is a form designed to help prioritize which stakeholders should be included in a planning group. Not all of organizations and individuals listed need to be included in a CRR coalition. It is meant as a guide, and you may want to include representatives from other groups that may not be listed.

Barriers to Developing an Effective CRR Coalition

There can be common barriers and pitfalls in the development of a community risk reduction coalition. These may include, but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Lack of leadership or a lead agency (schedules meetings, collects data, runs meetings, etc.).
  • Too many members (should be 10–12 or less).
  • Lack of adequate meeting facilities, locations, and times.
  • Inadequate support of members from their parent organizations.
  • Lack of clearly defined goals and objectives.
  • Inappropriate membership representation.
  • Inadequate financial resources.
  • No defined level of commitment of the participants.

Creating a CRR coalition is certainly not mandatory in the process of developing a CRR plan. Local resources may vary. However, involving community stakeholders may provide you with valuable resources and produce buy-in and support from influential community leaders and organizations.

The Lead Agency

Determining who will be the lead agency in the CRR planning process will be critical element of a successful program. Often, the fire department or some other public safety agency familiar with the community risks will take this responsibility. However, this does not necessarily have to be the case. Fire departments with limited staff and resources may want to approach another agency to take the lead, while they participate in a technical advisor or other capacity. The lead agency will also likely be the organization that prepares the plan.

Regardless of who the lead agency is, they must have sufficient capacity to accomplish the tasks required The lead agency must have resources adequate to establish a time and location for meetings; staff capable of data collection and dissemination; and staff with the ability to maintain records of the group’s meetings, actions, and other information.4 Finally, consider appointing one individual as the “CRR Coordinator.” This individual should be responsible for coordinating all the activities associated with implementing the plan.