By Tom Weber and Skip Gibson

Data AnalysisA community’s investment in fire mitigation is a proven and reliable predictor of future fire losses. Insurers recognize this and generally offer lower premiums in communities with better protection. To determine a community’s fire protection ability, many insurers rely on ISO’s Public Protection Classification (PPC™) program, which evaluates and rates municipal fire protection efforts in communities throughout the United States. The PPC scale of 1 (excellent fire protection) to 10 (doesn’t meet our minimum requirements) gives insurers the information they need to establish fair premiums for coverage.

In addition, communities themselves use PPC as a tool to benchmark the effectiveness of their fire protection services and help plan, budget for, and justify improvements. PPC ratings are based on our Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), the guide we use to evaluate fire departments, water departments, communications centers, and community risk reduction programs. In 2012, we made data capture even easier when ISO revised the FSRS to adopt national standards to use in measuring communities.

The key to making it all work is accurate data, and that includes data supplied by the community entities we work with in our evaluations. The PPC grading program is data-dependent because the FSRS requires accurate information to support the analysis and benchmarking of a community to establish its PPC. Each category for review requires supporting records provided to the field analyst to assess that category properly. Such data is also essential to the efficient functioning of a community’s emergency service providers. Their ability to analyze activities through data is how they learn what works and what doesn’t.

Fire departments use record management systems for response reporting, call processing, inventory, training, equipment maintenance, and prefire planning. Some fire departments are now also adding automated ISO reports to their data systems. The records are essential to achieving proper credit for a PPC.

Traditionally, fire departments maintained paper records, but with the advent of new technologies, many of those records have been automated using computer databases such as Excel or Access workbooks. In addition, many records and learning management companies have developed systems to track the data ISO requires for grading. 

Differences between communities and their fire protection services can create challenges for data capture. For example, some small, rural fire departments don’t use automated data capture or storage. They continue to use hard-copy records, and they’ve told us they don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future. Other communities do use automated systems, making data retrieval easier and more efficient.

The most notable difficulty in fire-related data records management is that no one system flawlessly captures all required data points. Many fire departments use computer-aided dispatching systems for response data, records management systems for inventories, and learning management systems for training records—all different databases. There are programs available for data capture, and some work exceptionally well, especially learning management systems (LMS). Others are only marginally good at capturing data and producing reports. LMSs have been designed to provide quality programs for emergency-service-based company training. The FSRS requires significant records on that training for full credit. The best LMSs capture fully the ISO-required training, and they produce accurate and easy-to-use reports for an ISO grading.

Fire service providers are discovering that rapid access to accurate data helps them provide the required information to get the best possible PPC score. Better scores demonstrate the effectiveness of the fire protection efforts for their communities. Additionally, those communities enjoy reasonable insurance rates based on their efforts to fund and provide quality fire protection. Members of the fire service are increasingly realizing the benefits of collecting, storing, and providing accurate data—and ISO expects those efforts will increase in the future.