Last year, the Insurance Services Office issued a call for proposed updates to its Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), which develops Public Protection Classifications (PPC) for its national grading program. ISO also embarked on an ambitious project to physically visit and identify all structures that house fire apparatus in the United States. Mike Waters, vice president of risk-decision services, discussed the process for the proposed changes to ISO's rating schedule.
Why update the PPC rating schedule now?
It was our objective to bring forward all of the positive aspects of the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule as it has been designed and used over the years, and to gather as much input as possible regarding suggestions for change. For example, we allowed visitors to comment on the revisions on our public website, and also spent a great deal of time with major organizations to solicit input, including the National Fire Protection Association,, National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Fire Fighters, Association of Public Safety Communication Officials, and the National Association of State Fire Marshals.
It's important to note that the determination of PPCs at the local community level is a two-part process that relies on annual property fire loss reviews, along with on-the-ground evaluations. It had been a number of years since there was a comprehensive update of the FSRS itself. It was last revised in 2003, and it was time to make sure it was forward facing in every respect.
How will the final updates be decided?
A primary driving force of the FSRS is to assess the aspects of local fire protection that are predictive of the potential for property fire loss. Over all of the years, the current schedule has performed well in that regard. However, we're looking for ways to further improve that aspect going forward. Our analyses have shown that there is a correlation between better protection classes and lower property losses in general.
The list of potential changes is comprehensive within the existing principal three modules — the fire department, the water supply, and emergency communications. The new version includes a fourth module — community risk reduction. The new module encompasses fire prevention activities, fire code adoption and enforcement, administration, and all related activities. To have it be fully responsive to the total fire protection system, planning, operation and reduction of loss, there were a number of areas where it could be strengthened.
What is the next step?
We have solidified a working draft of the revisions that reflects extensive input from as many people and organizations as possible. We have now moved into the testing mode of the potential changes, which will take several months.
It's a comprehensive process that involves analysis of data and acquisition of additional information from test communities, followed by comparison to our existing data. … We expect the testing process to conclude by fall of 2010. We're hopeful to start the state filings by early 2011.
How will the changes affect departments current ratings?
This new schedule will not have any retroactive effect on current classifications. If your community was recently reviewed by ISO and you have a classification, the mere fact that we're filing a new schedule will not affect anything in place; it would be on a go-forward basis. The new schedule will be used to develop re-evaluations when we visit a community in the future.
What is your vision for future revisions?
Having the most current data and establishing a continuous improvement process for the FSRS is crucial. Therefore, we envision a three- to five-year formal review cycle for the schedule.
Does that mean scheduling regular fire-department reviews?
That's correct. Our own internal efficiency and investments are going to be an important springboard to a more frequent update process than we have had in the past. … Generally, we've oriented our resources to where there is the most change in protection level. That's an important aspect of where we need to be going forward.
A few years ago, we were told your staffing was limited and prohibited frequent or regular visits.
Over the past few years, we've been taking proactive steps to help improve the timeliness of our data updates. For example, we have recently completed a major project to automate all of our FSRS information, which will help speed the updating process. And, we are leveraging the unique advantage of our more than 550 highly trained field personnel located across the country — supported by several hundred in-office analysts — to help keep our information current. In addition, we're in the midst of a major efficiency review to make our updating process faster — using technology to our favor. Plus, we enhance our engagement with local community officials through their use of our Fire Chiefs Online website. So, we are aggressively proceeding to accomplish our objective to update more communities more frequently.
It's to our advantage to be in front of that curve, and that is what has driven us to make the necessary changes. One key theme — the key to the future of effective community fire protection — is a data-driven analysis. As well, we are driving towards a higher level of integration of our information into insurer policy decision systems by taking advantage of our verified and validated data.
ISO has developed a relationship with the Center for Public Safety Excellence. What benefits does ISO see in CPSE?
ISO has been part of the accreditation process from its inception. We've not only been an active participant, but we're also on the board of commissioners. Fire departments that are successful in their pursuit of accreditation typically realize the corresponding benefit of an improved public protection class. So they are very much complementary in scope.
As another example, we spend a great deal of time working with the folks in accreditation on alternate deployment models to analyze how the actual resources are used. We also look at the distribution of engine companies and ladder companies within a community to face the needs of that community itself.
For instance, historically, we've relied on a distance-based model for the analysis of those fire department resources. But we see the clear benefit of using a GIS-driven deployment analysis. So we intend to recognize those instances when a community can demonstrate that it has passed muster in the accreditation process. Otherwise, we'll use the distance deployment-based model.
Texas is the only state that is able to receive credit for Class A and compressed air foam systems. From the list of proposed revisions, can that credit be given to fire departments in all states?
We've received similar feedback from various fire service leaders in fire departments around the country, and we've spent a good deal of time looking at and working with those organizations that are using CAFS, like Montgomery County, MD. Based on that feedback, we intend to expand the credit for those communities that use CAFS-equipped pumpers for all structural-alarms, similar to what we've done in the past with Class A foam.
Do you have any advice for FIRE CHIEF readers?
Their input has been very valuable to us, and I encourage more of it on a continual basis. We reach out and touch thousands of fire departments and officials through our outreach program, which includes attendance at many seminars and conferences across the country. But readers should not hesitate to give us a call, drop us a line, or go on our websites and let us know what is happening in their department and their community. We want to know what's on their mind.
In addition, based on feedback we've already heard, we understand how important this is to all involved. So we'll keep everyone up-to-date on the schedule update process. We take our role very seriously on behalf of the insurance industry, and we're aware there is a lot at stake. Rest assured, the commitment we have corporately to the fire service to continually reinforce the value of effective fire protection will remain strong.
What will testing the changes involve?
It's an internal process using our baseline data to measure the effect of the new changes in the FSRS against current PPCs. We compare the current schedule outcome to the new schedule outcome and see where the differences are — individually and collectively across our property loss data bases to assess the predictability of the new version.
I thought it was even longer than six years.
In 2003, we included additional recognition of hauled water in rural and suburban environments particularly by adding a class that we call 8B. 8B recognizes a fire department's ability to have 4000 gallons of water available in what would otherwise be a community not well protected — with or without hydrants. The remainder of schedule itself goes back to 1980, the version that is being used today.
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