Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on May 7, 2020.

This is CRR 

How the COVID-19 pandemic is a study of community risk reduction in action 
Around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has placed unprecedented burdens on first responders and health care systems, and has produced a public risk bigger than anything most communities have ever faced.

The situation has required local governments, hospitals, businesses, and emergency response agencies to assess their specific risks to COVID-19 and reallocate their limited resources to minimize its impact. Hospitals have rearranged space to increase the number of ICU beds; EMS agencies have tweaked standard protocols to better handle the expected surge in patients; and governments have taken steps to restrict citizens from gathering or even moving about. These steps, and many others, were taken after a risk analysis revealed the dire consequences of doing nothing.

Whether these officials or agencies know it or not, the process they’re undertaking is the very definition of community risk reduction (CRR). CRR has emerged as a much-discussed topic over the last couple of years, showing up in countless webinars, conference session titles, and government grant proposals. For all its promise, though, CRR is a term that seems to be widely misunderstood, one used as a catch-all for a lot of things that may or may not be connected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by fire safety professionals, “Oh yes, we do CRR—it’s our smoke alarm program.” But CRR is not a single program; it’s a process that requires thoughtful decision making and engagement at every step. A true CRR process is valuable both during a pandemic, to prepare for immediate risks, and also in ordinary times, to plan ahead for potential community risks.

One way to understand the fundamentals of developing a meaningful CRR program is through the slogan “Slow down to go F.A.S.T.: Fearless, Adaptive, Strategic Thinking.” The fearless piece means embracing the data and completing what’s known as a community risk assessment. Although this process can initially appear daunting, it is important to slow down and take the time to explore. Look at the data. Talk to stakeholders. Peel away the layers and get an all-hazards view of the challenges faced by your community and the capacities that exist to address them. The risk assessment is a critical first step; if you jump into CRR without it, it’s likely that you’ll just end up wasting time, resources, and opportunities.

Adaptive refers to how you define CRR—the term has many definitions, and we need to align around one that works for all of us. NFPA 1300, Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development, defines CRR as a process to identify and prioritize local risks, followed by the strategic investment of resources to reduce their occurrence and impact. In addition to providing a clear definition of community risk reduction, the standard provides important guidance for everyone working to implement rich CRR initiatives.

Strategic thinking begins with considering what you want to accomplish with your CRR work and who should be at the table to help. Many agencies across the community can supply valuable input and resources to enhance your all-hazards CRR initiatives. Seek input from stakeholders, invite partners to participate, delegate tasks, and share resources. CRR should have a clear identity across communities, not just in the firehouse. Strategic planning and strong partnerships are key components in the most effective CRR initiatives.

The CRR process occurring around the world to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is something that every community can do on an ongoing basis to prepare for a multitude of short- and long-term risks. It’s never too soon to develop, implement, and evaluate your plan. For information visit

Lorraine Carli is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Illustration: Michael Hoeweler