Monday, November 19, 2018

How to Control Risk [5 Techniques]


With the record breaking and devastating wildfires in California, private fire protection services are becoming more visible. These services are offered by insurers, such as AIG and Chubb, to add an extra layer of protection to their high value insured properties. Much of the media seeks to vilify the “rich” for engaging in this practice. However, as any of us would, we merely use the tools at our disposal to reduce our exposure to loss.

BusinessDictionary.com defines risk as, “A probability or threat of damage, injury, liability, loss, or any other negative occurrence that is caused by external or internal vulnerabilities, and that may be avoided through preemptive action." This definition, as it applies to the insurance industry reads, “A situation where the probability of a variable (such as burning down of a building) is known but when a mode of occurrence or the actual value of the occurrence (whether the fire will occur at a particular property) is not.”

The most succinct definition of risk comes from NFPA 1250, “a measure of the probability and severity of adverse effects that result from an exposure to a hazard”.  NFPA 1250, Recommended Practice in Fire and Emergency Service Organization Risk Management, provides this definition of risk, and outlines risk managements plans and processes that should be implemented by fire departments.  Understanding that risk is an inherent part in our daily duties, there are five techniques that can be employed to manage or control this risk.
  1. Exposure Avoidance
  2. Loss Prevention
  3. Loss Reduction
  4. Segregation of Exposures
  5. Contractual Transfer
Exposure Avoidance. This is risk control by simply opting out, and steering completely clear, of a particularly high hazard activity, event, or location.

Loss Prevention. This is the use of methods and measures to reduce the probability of a loss from occurring.  These can include inspections, audits, or training programs.

Loss Reduction. Theses are measures used to reduce severity of loss, even if engaging in a high risk activity. A good example would be the use of PPE when entering a structure fire. This would also include post-accident/loss activities, procedures, and processes.

Segregation of Exposures. This could also be a loss reduction tactic. This is accomplished by breaking large units into smaller ones, and distributing equipment and resources, throughout a large area. This reduces the likelihood of a total loss if all items, personnel, resources were to be located in a single area.

Contractual Transfer. This is the use of a formal insurance policy. This is affected by the transfer of responsibility from one entity to another.

These five methods of risk management are defined and outlined in NFPA 1250.  The insurance industry, however, would add one additional method to the list - retention.

Retention. This is when an organization acknowledges that there is a risk, and prepares for the loss (financially and physically) themselves. They are self-insured, which simply means that they control all the money, instead of an outside or third-party “insurance company”.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Power Lines and the WUI

Photo from: LA Times
As fires continue to rage throughout California, investigations into the twelve fires that occurred earlier this year, and burned 245,000 acres, have been concluded. Investigators with Cal Fire have determined that these fires were caused by Pacific Gas & Electric Company power lines. High winds in the area caused trees and branches to fall onto the lines, and in at least one case a power pole failed and collapsed. PG&E currently has a vegetation control program in place with a budget of $400 million per year.

NFPA 1, Fire Code provides clear guidance on how to prevent fires from electrical lines. Chapter 17, Wildland Urban Interface outlines the following  requirements for vegetation clearance around electrical transmission and distribution lines, conductors, and their appurtenances.

  • 10 feet clearance is required around all poles or towers
  • At the time of trimming, the following minimum clearances should be provided based on the line voltage:

  • As the growth returns, it is permitted to grow to within the clearances shown in the table below. Once this minimum distance is reached vegetation must be trimmed back to the required minimum clearance.
                             
  • The AHJ has authority to adjust clearance requirements based on local needs or conditions, and vegetation type

Monday, November 5, 2018

NEC Hazardous Locations


Though many jurisdictions have electrical inspectors that enforce the provisions of NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC), there are provisions and requirements that overlap with the duties of the fire inspector. Some of these areas or occupancies include high hazard industrial facilities, paint rooms and spray booths, hazardous materials storage, and fuel handling processes and operations. These areas require that the fire inspector properly classifies the hazardous location in order to ensure proper installation of electrical wiring and components.


NFPA 70, Article 500 defines these hazardous classifications as follows, “Locations shall be classified depending on the properties of the flammable gas, flammable liquid–produced vapor, combustible liquid–produced vapors, combustible dusts, or fibers/flyings that could be present, and the likelihood that a flammable or combustible concentration or quantity is present. Each room, section, or area shall be considered individually in determining its classification.”  These are divided into classes and divisions.


Class I - locations in which flammable gases, or flammable or combustible liquid-produced vapors are or may be present in the air in quantities sufficient to produce explosive or ignitable mixtures.


Class II - locations that are hazardous because of the presence of combustible dust.


Class III - locations that are hazardous because of the presence of easily ignited fibers, or where combustible flyings are handled, manufactured, or used.


The charts below show the Class and Divisions categories.






*Group E. Atmospheres containing combustible metal dusts, including aluminum, magnesium, and their commercial alloys, or other combustible dusts whose particle size, abrasiveness, and conductivity present similar hazards in the use of electrical equipment.




In some instances a “zone” designation may be used as an alternative to the division classification system shown here. These zones will either be Zone 0, Zone 1, Zone 2, or Zone 20, Zone 21, Zone 22. These are defined in NFPA 70, Article 505 and Article 506.


Article 505 defines Class 1, Zone 0, Zone 1, and Zone 2 as “locations where fire or explosion hazards may exist due to flammable gases, vapors, or liquids.” Article 506 defines Zone 20, Zone 21, and Zone 22 as “locations where fire and explosion hazards may exist due to combustible dusts or ignitable fibers/flyings.”


As a tool for the field inspector or plans examiner we have created a single page reference that provides quick access to the classification and division definitions.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Kent's 9 Rules of Analysis [for Fire Protection Professionals]


In the 1940's, Sherman Kent, a Yale professor and father of American analytical intelligence, authored a book entitled, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. In his book, written for intelligence analysts, Kent outlines nine rules of analysis. Though written for the intelligence community, these nine rules of analysis can be applied to what fire protection professionals do everyday.

As fire protection professionals we are constantly faced with a barrage of data and information.  This data and information must be analyzed and evaluated to specify and approve life safety features, design fire protection systems, promote and develop prevention programs, and more. How can we ensure that the right information is being analyzed and the best options are being presented? To be great at the art and craft of analyzing and presenting information, we should learn and apply Kent's nine rules of analysis.

9 Rules of Analysis


1. Focus on Policymaker Concerns. Who are the policymakers in your community? What is their primary concern? The "policymaker" can be the client, the commissioners, or other group or individual that will be making the final approval decision and releasing needed funds. Issues and requests will be better received if presented in a manner and time-frame that suits the affected policymaker.  
"Accommodate clients by producing assessments timed to their decision cycle and focused on their learning curve".

2. Avoidance of a Personal Policy Agenda. What is best for the policymaker (client,group, community)? This may directly conflict with the needs of the individual, the department, or the company. 
"Identify and evaluate alternatives...allow the client to recommend and choose."

3. Intellectual Rigor. Information and solutions should be "rigorously evaluated for validity".  
"Judgments are based on evaluated and organized data, substantive expertise, and sound, open-minded postulation of assumptions."

4. Conscious Effort to Avoid Analytic Biases. Review the data, information, and problem with an open mind. Don't get tunnel vision that tries to fit the problem into your 
"Resist the tendency to see what they expect to see in the 

5. Willingness to Consider Other Judgments. Argument and dissent should be encouraged, as long as, the dissenter's judgement is made clear and based on alternative assumptions or different interpretations of information. A good example of this is the model code development process. A group of individuals that gather, share their "judgments", to create the most useful and relevant code or standard. 


6. Systematic Use of Outside Experts. The more we know about new technology, new processes, new structure or building methods, the better we can serve those "policymakers" and our communities. This can be largely accomplished by building the right relationships with experts in other fields, that can provide and interpret the new information. 
"Take account of a wide range of outside opinions...cultivate working relations with outsiders..."

7. Collective Responsibility for Judgment. Collective responsibility is the idea that individuals who are part of of a group (the "collective") are responsible for the groups actions and occurrences by tolerating, ignoring, or harboring them, without being actively engaged in the decision. Being aware of this, fire protection professionals should always speak up, represent, and defend their analysis, to their clients best interest.
"Allow time for coordination and accommodate collective responsibility."

8. Effective Communication of Policy-Support Information and Judgments. A good method to use is The Pyramid Principle developed by Barabara Minto. This is a method of corporate communication that starts with the solution then presents recommendations, and supporting ideas.
"Shorter is usually better, with key points stated quickly... If the tradeoff is between adding length and allowing brevity to cause confusion, provide a carefully measured dose of detail."

9. Candid Admission of Mistakes. If you have made a mistake readily admit it and present solutions for corrections. Master your subject and trade-craft, study mistakes, learn by conducting a critical review of failures.
 "Admission and explanation of analytic errors are likely to increase credibility with policy clients."

These decades-old postulates can serve as a refreshing blueprint for the development, presentation, and analysis of information and solutions to problems. Define the "policymakers" primary concern. Seek intellectual rigor, and strive to never bring personal agenda or bias to the task. Seek advice and test other’s hypotheses. Take responsibility and credit as a group. Hold yourself to the highest standards of professionalism and excellence in your field.  Admit mistakes and be quick to respond to, and correct, them.