SOPE 2020

Public Educators and Fire and Life Safety Professionals Learn New Ways to Improve their Efforts at SOPE 2020

The 2020 NFPA Spotlight on Public Education conference went virtual this year, featuring four professionally led workshops that provided fire & life safety educators, injury prevention, and public education leaders with knowledge and networking opportunities to address public education in today's world.

Here are some of the highlights, if you missed out.

“Hoarding: From Enforcement to Engagement”

This workshop highlighted the risks to residents and first responders from hoarding, along with methods to address these situations for the safety and well-being of all involved. Hoarding is a complex issue that can affect people from all socioeconomic levels and types of housing. Hoarding behavior is indicated by excessive accumulation inside or outside the home combined with an inability to give/toss anything away. In hoarding situations, residents have an increased risk of falls, fire, and exacerbating their chronic conditions due to the inability to find things, use the kitchen/bathrooms, and unsanitary and cluttered conditions. First responders find their ability to deal with fires and other emergencies at a higher risk due to increased fire load and the lack of clear pathways to maneuver through the home.

Once hoarding behavior has been identified, there are a number of ways to address the resident:

  • For community engagement
  • -Get buy-in from church members, family, or neighbors
  • -Consider creating a task force with primary partners like housing and public health to address social, psychological, or environmental questions in treatment
  • -Establish procedures like ongoing visitation
  • For addressing hoarding behavior
  • -Set realistic expectations
  • -Aim for home functional and safe, not home beautiful
  • -Engage in their goals for their home using an empathetic approach

“Community Risk Assessment: The First Chapter in Your CRR Story”

Conducting a Community Risk Assessment (CRA) is the vital first step of Community Risk Reduction (CRR), a process that helps communities recognize potential risks and develop proactive plans to alleviate them, improving safety outcomes for residents and first responders. This session helped public educators and first responders explore how to use their data as a strong launch-pad into addressing specific risks in their communities.

 South County Fire was able to use their CRA to identify areas of the county that produced higher call volumes requesting COVID-19 tests. With the tools gained from the NFPA CRA pilot project, they introduced a set of education campaigns and new procedures that is beginning to create a decrease in those calls. Windsor used the dashboard to more accurately track their demographics, leading to COVID-19 outreach that focused on high-density areas and new materials that better reflect the community.

To put your best foot forward in completing a Community Risk Assessment for CRR, remember:

  • When collecting data, get as local as you can, as often as you can.
  • Use the data to tell a story about your community
  • Form partnerships with your key stakeholders
  • Measure the capacity of emergency services to deal with crises

Fire departments can also apply to be a part of the next phase of NFPA's CRA pilot project. For more information, please contact our CRR team at

 “Taking your education programs virtually anywhere”

Fire and life safety educators gained a deeper understanding of how to engage with their participants in a virtual world and enhance their experiences by using digital tools, tips and tricks. Taking presentations online can be a great way to meet the audience where they are, increase convenience, reach a larger audience, and open collaboration opportunities. They are fun, interactive, and help participants take in information at their own pace with recording and re-watching capabilities.

When considering what virtual tools work for you, remember these tips from Brene Duggins, fire prevention coordinator for the Holly Grove, NC Fire Department and media coordinator of the Oak Grove High School in Davidson County, NC:

  • Don't panic—it may be new, but it's easy to do!
  • Collaborate with other educators
  • Find areas in the community that increase internet accessibility for students that might need it
  • Consider tools such as breakout rooms, exit tickets, and more uses for Google Forms

 “Falls Prevention among Older Adults”

Falls send approximately 1 in 17 people over age 65 to the ER each year. The fire service is often first on the scene, responding to more lift assist calls than fire calls for older adults. In this workshop, participants learned about the impacts of the aging process, and the physical and environmental conditions which the increase risk of falls. A first fall increases the fear of falling, which in turn can actually create greater risk, engaging the older adult in a vicious cycle.

Using  NFPA Remembering When® A Fire and Fall Prevention Program for Older Adults from NFPA as a base, Saskatoon, Canada Fire Department created a proactive-reactive-proactive approach that adds home visits and education to decrease the potential for a first and subsequent falls. By connecting residents with local health agencies to perform follow-up, their activities have resulted in a reduction of “repeat” falls among residents.

According to Dori Krahn of the Saskatoon, FD, their program has helped residents stay in their homes longer, engage them in manageable changes, socialize, and gives the fire department an opportunity to check homes for additional risks of fire including assuring working smoke alarms. 

Farmington Hills, MI Fire Department partners with the Knox Box and File of Life tools to assure quick access and information when helping senior residents when they experience falls or other medical emergencies. And in Greenville, North Carolina, the Remembering When program is made sustainable by the Vidant Health Center Injury Prevention Program through a partnership with local colleges to recruit and train public health and gerontology students to conduct home visits. The program is further sustained through a robust partnership with the regional falls coalition. 

 Remembering When materials are free and available on NFPA's public education website and are available in in English, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin. 

As we find ourselves dealing with new ways to reach our audiences, this Spotlight on Public Education event gave an opportunity for fire and life safety and public education professionals to learn, connect and energize their efforts. Overall, it was an event filled with resources and real-life examples on how to improve public education and fire and life safety outcomes for your community. For more information, visit NFPA's Public Education page.

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Cierra Thompson
Public Affairs Intern

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