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Standards of Cover

What are Standards of Cover?

Standards of response coverage are an integral part of strategic planning for fire protection. They are the allocation and distribution of resources to meet the goals and objectives of a community’s master fire protection plan.
– Commission on Fire Accreditation International
 
Standards of Cover, also referred to as Standards of Response Coverage or Deployment Analysis, is a system for analyzing resource deployment, to determine whether a department is properly deployed to meet its community’s risks and expectations. Standards of Cover (SOC) is applicable to all fire departments and districts, career and volunteer, large and small. However, there is no 'one size fits all' SOC. The SOC must take into account factors unique to the community the department serves.
 
The SOC states agency-specific performance goals to which fire service leaders compare actual performance to measure the effectiveness of their fire department or district. The SOC process is not just about the number of fire stations and firefighters, the SOC supports community and firefighter safety by identifying the number of personnel that should arrive at each risk type to safely and effectively accomplish the community’s objectives.
 
A small fire department or district’s SOC may be only a few pages in length, while a large department’s SOC can be upwards of one hundred pages.
 
A well-written SOC should provide the authority having jurisdiction, fire chief, and members:
  • Defensible position related to strategic plan and future funding requests.
  • Defensible position related to adverse events and the criteria used to make your decisions.
  • A clear method to assess past, present, and future service delivery decisions.
 

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Determining Your SOC Benchmarks

The following agencies offer guidelines to help fire service leaders determine SOC performance benchmarks for their department or district.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
The NFPA has two performance standards for fire departments: NFPA 1710 for predominantly career departments and NFPA 1720 for predominantly volunteer departments. The NFPA 1710 standard, among other things, identifies a target response time performance objective for career fire departments and a target staffing standard for structure fires. NFPA 1720 applies to volunteers who typically do not have personnel on-duty in stations and instead respond to page-out from home, work, or elsewhere. NFPA 1720 provides staffing and time benchmarks for volunteer response based on zone type and population. Although the NFPA standards are not legal mandates, they provide useful benchmarks against which to measure fire agency performance. They are also used by investigative agencies providing after-action reports. 
 
Copies of the NFPA Standards are available for purchase at NFPA
 
National Fire Protection Association Standard 1710: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments – 2010 Edition
 
National Fire Protection Association Standard 1720: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments – 2010 Edition

Insurance Services Office (ISO)
Fire agencies can use the ISO Public Protection Classification (PPC™) rating as a yard stick to measure their community's risk against that of other similar communities. ISO issues PPC™ ratings to communities throughout Oregon, and some insurance companies use them in pricing homeowners and commercial property insurance. In general, the price of fire insurance in a community with a good PPC™ is substantially lower than in a community with a poor PPC™, assuming all other factors are equal.
 
While the NFPA standards are based on time, ISO uses a distance approach to evaluate resource deployment. ISO reviews the capabilities of the community’s water system including water storage, water distribution mains, and the quantity and distribution of fire hydrants. Alternative water sources are also reviewed and can provide rating credits. ISO reviews the quality of the public’s means of communicating an emergency to the fire department through its dispatch center. It also reviews how effectively the dispatch center transmits that information to the fire department. Finally, ISO reviews the fire department’s fire suppression capability. This includes number of available firefighters, number and type of apparatus, equipment carried on apparatus, and the distribution of fire stations throughout the service area, Keep in mind that ISO’s process rates a community’s risk for insurance purposes.
 
Information about ISO’s PPC program and copies of the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule are available at ISO.
 
ISO is currently reviewing and updating the content of its Fire Suppression Rating Schedule. Several revisions are being considered, most significant of which is the increased reference to the NFPA standards. Information about the possible revisions is available at ISO

Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI)
The CFAI adopted standards of cover as a 'core competency' in the self-assessment process that must be met for an agency to be accredited by the CFAI. CFAI employs a comprehensive approach to deployment analysis. In addition to considering travel time and distance, several other deployment factors are analyzed, such as call concurrency, risk assessment, and deployment based on getting enough resources to a given risk for an effective outcome. CFAI believes that a community should first determine the levels of service it wishes to provide and then develop standards of cover to provide that level of service.
 
Copies of the CFAI Standards of Cover Manual (5th Edition) are available for purchase at CFAI

Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA)
Fire departments and districts must ensure that their SOC complies with all related OR-OSHA laws, rules, regulations, and requirements. Some NFPA standards are directly referenced in OR-OSHA Division 2/L, Fire Protection, Administrative Rules
  
 

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Key Elements of a SOC Plan

The key elements of a SOC plan are outlined below.
 
1.  Overview - The study starts with a description of: (a) the community served, including demographics, geography, and specific unique community features; and (b) the agency, including statutory authority, funding mechanisms, department history, and types of services provided.
 
2.  Community outcome expectations - What does the community expect of the department? Has there ever been a discussion with the elected officials about what service goals the department ought to deliver and measure itself against?
 
3.  Community risk assessment - This is a critical step in the SOC process. Response standards should be identified based on risk classification. The four classes are Low, Moderate, Significant, and Maximum risk:
  • Low risk: Areas zoned and used for agricultural purposes, open space, and other low intensity uses.
  • Moderate risk: Areas zoned for single family properties, small commercial and office uses, and equivalently sized business activities.
  • High risk: Business districts, high density residential, light industrial, and large mercantile centers.
  • Maximum risk: High rise, unprotected, residential and commercial properties, heavy industrial, and high life risk institutional properties.
 
Risk other than fire are also considered, such as emergency medical service demand, technical rescue, transportation, natural hazards, weather, and others.
 
The goal is to determine the probability of an event and the potential consequences. The SOC process analyzes deployment based on the risk assessment. That is, how many people must arrive in what time frame, properly trained and equipped, to achieve the desired outcome?
 
4.  Distribution study - This is the location of first-due resources, typically engines. Distribution is measured by the percentage of the jurisdiction covered by first-due units within the adopted response time benchmarks. A distribution statement must have a percentage performance measure and a time measure and state a service level objective. Example of a distribution statement:
 
For 90% of all incidents, the first-due unit shall arrive within six minutes total response time. The first-due unit shall be capable of advancing the first line for fire control or starting rescue or providing Basic Life Support for medical incidents.
 
5.  Concentration study - This is the spacing of multiple resources, arranged close enough together that an initial 'effective response force' can be assembled on scene within enough time to most likely stop the escalation of the emergency for a given risk type. Concentration is also measured by what percentage of the jurisdiction is covered by the effective response force (first-alarm assignment). A concentration statement must have a percentage performance measure and a time measure and state a service level objective. Example of a concentration statement:
 
In a Moderate risk area, an initial effective response force shall arrive within 8 minutes travel or 10 minutes total response time, 90% of the time, and be able to provide 1,500gpm for firefighting, or be able to handle a five-patient emergency medical incident.
 
6.  Historical response reliability - Response reliability is the probability, expressed as a percentage, that the required amount of staff and apparatus will be available when a fire or emergency call is received. There are times when a call is received when the first-due company is unavailable, requiring a later-due company to be assigned. Simultaneous calls for service (concurrency) is a problem for fire agencies of all sizes. Analysis of multiple call frequency can produce meaningful results. An agency’s deployment may look great for travel time on a map, yet be problematic due to simultaneous calls for service. Some of the factors influencing response reliability include traffic patterns, simultaneous other emergencies, and time of day.
 
7.  Historical response effectiveness - Response effectiveness is the percentage of compliance the existing system delivers. How well is the agency meeting the existing service objectives? If, for example, the current deployment is supposed to answer all calls within x minutes, y percent of the time, does it? If not, why not?
 
8.  Overall evaluation - The first seven elements of the SOC are each a part of the deployment analysis. In this section, all the study parts are evaluated as a whole to determine if changes in deployment should be proposed. Proposed standard of cover statements by risk type are formed.
 
9.  Goals and Objectives - These are the specific statements related to staffing, response times, and infrastructure developments which resulted from the deployment analysis. These goal statements and service level objectives must include:
  • Rationale for the goal. This includes reference to the national, regional, or local standards used to establish the goal, conformity to the risk assessment, and the supporting deployment analysis.
  • Estimated cost for implementation of the goal.
  • Time frame for implementation of the goal.
  • Method to measure the stated goal and/or objective.
 

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Capturing SOC Data

The SOC cannot be developed without data. National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) forms capture your incident response data, which can then be analyzed using your reporting program, a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel, and a GIS program.
 
Fire Bridge™, Oregon’s incident reporting system, captures the pertinent incident response information and has built-in reports which greatly facilitate data analysis for your SOC plan. Your attention to thorough completion of your NFIRS reports is essential to having quality data for your SOC. Information about station, district, alarm time, in-service time, apparatus, and personnel responding to an incident are fundamental to deployment analysis. Entering the Latitude and Longitude coordinates of your stations and incidents into Fire Bridge™ enables mapping for further analysis.

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SOC Examples

Important: These SOC examples may not conform to the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CFAI) Standards of Coverage Plan, 5th edition, and should not be used as models for accreditation purposes.
 
Bend Fire & Rescue Deployment Plan – 2009  
 
Depoe Bay RFPD Standards of Cover – 2008
 
Orange County Fire Risk Analysis – 2005
 
Salem Fire Department Standards of Coverage and Deployment Plan – 2007 
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SOC Resources

Templates
 
Oregon Fire Service Stratification Worksheet This template from the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association serves as a minimum Standards of Cover document.
 
 
Reference
 
Cardwell, Michael. Using National Standards to Create a Staffing and Deployment Plan An applied research project submitted to the National Fire Academy. June 2006. 
 
Leinoff, Stephen. Creating Standards of Response Coverage for Fire Incidents An applied research project submitted to the National Fire Academy. September 2002.
 
Commission on Fire Accreditation International. Standards of Cover Manual(5th Edition)
 
Insurance Services Office. Fire Suppression Rating Schedule 
 
National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 1710: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, 2010 Edition. NFPA
 
National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 1720: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments, 2010 Edition. NFPA
 
Oregon Fire Chiefs Association. Best Practices

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