USFA’S Quick Response System: A Marketing ICS That Works

Question: Once a fire, hazmat or EMS incident has occurred, how does my department use it to educate the public to keep a similar incident from happening again? Answer: There are many similarities between the commercial marketing world and that...


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Question:

Answer: There are many similarities between the commercial marketing world and that of emergency services. In terms of time horizons, there are long-term strategic marketing plans and short-term tactical plans. The difference between commercial marketing and public service emergency marketing is that we think we do not have the luxury of choosing the time and place to apply the service. In fact, that is not necessarily true; for example, when it comes to prevention and public education. But, when an incident does occur, each jurisdiction needs a mechanism to respond through communication, awareness and education. This becomes a powerful tool for fire, EMS and disaster preparation and prevention. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), in coordination with its public relations agency, Hager Sharp, has developed a system that works.

In my September column, I discussed the concept of “Marketing ICS” as a mechanism for implementing a marketing action plan. The concept of Marketing ICS is so important that I’ve made it the new name of my column. This month, the focus is on the USFA Quick Response System.

First, a few facts from the future about your career in terms of fire prevention and public education. Before we discuss the elements of the Quick Response System, it is important to ground us all in what a mentor of mine used to call “the facts of life.”

The fire service, paid and volunteer, must come to grips with the fact that emergency response is only one element of our responsibility as public servants. Fire departments in other countries, specifically the U.K. and Japan, have understood this for some time. They do not necessarily look at prevention and education as more important than suppression, but they do understand that it is very important as well as more cost effective in saving human and hard resources. It is a complete fire and life safety system.

The United States logged approximately 1.6 million fires in 2003. In those fires, 3,500 people died, 14,000 people were injured and over $6 billion in property was lost. That’s just the fire equation. It does not even touch the other services we deliver. There is rarely a day that goes by across this country in every single city and town that the public does not see our brothers and sisters on the TV or in the newspaper in some kind of situation where we are doing our jobs. This is why it is so perplexing that many of us have such a narrow view of who we are and what we do.

Hager Sharp is a full-service public relations firm that has specialized for 30 years in providing strategic communications, public relations, marketing and public affairs leadership to corporate, government and not-for-profit clients. The firm is dedicated to making a difference in the world, and works only with organizations, firms and institutions that have a mission to contribute to society. A regional firm based in Baltimore, the company numbers some of the top government, not-for-profits and public service corporations among its clients.

One of Hager Sharp’s greatest strengths is its ability to understand its clients’ needs and create effective communication tools to provide solutions. I first met with Hager Sharp executives thanks to Kathy Gerstner, the executive with USFA responsible for national public fire education programs in Wayne Powell and Cortez Lawrence’s National Fire Programs section. Hager Sharp’s work supports USFA’s objectives to reduce the loss of life from fire among high-risk populations, including children, people ages 65-plus and firefighters. As one of the executives noted to me for this article, “Job No. 1 for every campaign is to raise awareness of fire risk among high-risk audiences and their caregivers, who are crucial primary audiences for young children and older people. People in general do not believe that fire can happen to them. Hand-in-hand with increased awareness is public education about how to prevent fires (with messages that address the leading causes of fires among groups targeted for a particular campaign) and fire safety messages that enable people to respond effectively when fire does happen. The broad scope of Hager Sharp’s work includes strategic campaign planning, market research, message and materials development, media relations and events, and the development of partnership programs. Our work benefits from a strong collaboration with USFA experts.”

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