USFA: Marketing At the National Level

Question: As the primary fire safety office of the U.S. government, does the U.S. Fire Administration use and emphasize marketing to fulfill its role? Answer: U.S. Fire Administrator Dave Paulison is providing significant guidance in his...


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Challenge 4 - Lack of consistent communications systems among local agencies. Communications problems have long plagued us, and as result of the creation of the patchwork of communication systems (800 mhz, UHF, VHF) many American fire departments currently are unable talk to other fire departments. They often cannot communicate with law enforcement and other governmental agencies responding to unified command emergencies. Together we must find solutions to our numerous and potentially harmful communication problems-and solve the issue of interoperability.

Challenge 5 - Differences in incident command systems. While there has been significant acceptance of incident command principles by the fire service, there remain differences from community to community. In this country there are differences in the incident command systems the fire services respond with, and many other adaptations and nuances you have created locally. Imagine for a moment, an emergency to which all of the fire service personnel in several jurisdictions were called. What incident command system would you use? Acts of terrorism or massive natural disasters that strike your hometown allow no time to debate a sector vs. a group. The time has arrived, to set aside our differences and accept one common incident command system for all fire departments and first responders. An incident command system which provides a common understanding and acceptance of law enforcement, emergency management, public works, utilities, medical professionals, federal and state responders and citizens to work safely under a system common to all incident responders.

Challenge 6 - Nationwide credentialing needed. The lack of a commonly accepted incident command system leads to another significant all-hazards homeland security problem. There currently is no nationwide credentialing system similar to the American forest service "Red Card" program. The lack of a credentialing system creates problems when hundreds of firefighters, police and EMS personnel self-dispatch themselves into an emergency. It further creates a lack of mutual aid protocols, scene control and the lack of interstate and intrastate mutual aid agreements.

Challenge 7 - Volunteer and career firefighters. I would like to step back for a moment and address a sincere concern of the administration, which I share. America's firefighters have for far too long created a national culture of distinguishing between volunteer and career firefighters - not to celebrate our heritage, but to divide our service. We view this as a potential weakness for the American fire service. Rather than defining and solving community hazards and addressing current challenges together, far too many service decisions are being made based on whether you are volunteer or career, and thereby wasting valuable time, energy and resources.

Firehouse: What are the marketing mechanisms now in place to further those initiatives? What is the structure of the "marketing department"?

Bourne: USFA, now as part of the Preparedness Division of FEMA, is in the process of reorienting into a more formal marketing process. Preparedness will have a marketing and outreach team, which will coordinate efforts with the USFA public information officer and with a liaison from the FEMA Office of Public Affairs. This staff will work with the USFA program staff to develop outreach and marketing campaigns, work with USFA contracted marketing and PR firms, the national fire and emergency services organizations, and allied groups to implement the marketing strategies.

Firehouse: What is the role of advertising and public affairs?

Bourne: Advertising plays an important role, but is not the only method we utilize. I also am not as big a fan of the public service announcement route normally taken by government agencies. Seeing a public service announcement at 3 A.M. does not get the message to those that need to hear it. The Ginsu infomercial would win every time.

I am a firm believer in targeted ads that are bought for specific time periods and aimed at specific audiences. TV, radio, billboards are all part of that effort. But we also have found that sending fire safety information directly to newspapers and local media immediately following a fire with loss of life or injury is far more effective in communicating our fire safety message and is even free.

Firehouse: What are the USFA's target markets, its various relationship groups? Stakeholders? How are you building coalitions?