Developing Public Education Programs

Special thanks to Prevention Connection - Public Safety Task Force for their contributions to this post.

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If we treated fire and life safety education like a business, we as a fire service would be miles ahead. Businesses stay in business by offering solutions to known problems, or to problems their customers might not even know they have. As a fire service, we are pushing ourselves out of the business by not providing solutions to a very real and well known problem, the fire problem! We all know it is there, but as a “business” not always do we deliver the best solutions to our “customer”. Let’s do something big and take appropriate measures to better serve and protect communities!

We can save time and money by tapping into readily available resources that meet the critical need and address the ‘fire problem’. We also have access to codes and standards like NFPA 1730, to help us develop our own cutting edge public education programs.

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Our public education efforts should focus on programs that are interactive, engaging and provide maximum benefit to the community. Determining which programs provide the greatest value can be found by reviewing the data collected in the Community Risk Assessment (CRA). Interpreting the data and identifying the risks will focus your attention on the programs that are most needed. Here’s how it’s done:

1.  Collect the data.  Data can be collected from a variety of sources and should include local population and census information, socio-econcomic indicators, fire department run reports, and local or national trends. 

2.  Compare the data.  The collected data should then be analyzed to find trends and common, or frequently, occurring incidents.  These incidents can then be broken down by population data such as age group, socio-economic status, and geographical area of occurrence.

3.  Identify the risks.  The risks that the data shows will become the basis for your public education program.  Public education efforts should be designed to reduce or mitigate these community risks.

4.  Identify root causes.  The public education program should address the actual root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. To get to the root cause will require more in-depth analysis of the identified risks.

5.  Define goals and objectives.  The best objectives are S.M.A.R.T. objectives:
     S - specific
     M - measurable
     A - achievable
     R - realistic
     T - time-based

6.  Develop strategic partners. Reach out to other public and private organizations in the community.  They will have a shared interest in your program and may provide additional resources and/or funds.

7.  Develop the program. Create the public education programming, elements, and deliverables. Prior to spending a large amount of time creating a program from scratch, explore the many ready-made resources that are available.  Get the program started and out to the public, do not get stuck in a planning and preparing mode!

8.  Implement the program.  Deliver the program.  Don't worry about everything being perfect, just get your program to the audience that needs it.  You can always make changes and tweaks as the program grows.

9.  Evaluate the process and impact measures.  Your program should be regularly evaluated to ensure that you are reaching your target audience, and the message you want conveyed is being received. 

10.  Modify as needed.  Within a set time-frame the program should be reviewed to determine its impact.  If changes to the message, audience, or delivery are needed then make them. 

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With the many public education options available it is easy to go for the program that has the most funding, the best resources, or something the individual educator enjoys. Chasing programs can take much time, money, and resources spent on a program that still might not be solving the ‘fire problem’. Regardless, education cannot take the back seat anymore! NFPA 1730 is timely and fantastic for those of us needing to freshen up our pub ed efforts. These guidelines will help you get a new take to some of the existing curriculums, that you can build upon. Get these tools in your hand so you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. Here are some terrific examples:

Public Education Resources by Target Audience