Hazard Mitigation Through Risk Management
By Gary E. Seidel, fire chief, retired

“Risk management doesn’t get in the way of doing the mission; it is the way we do the mission.”


Do you have a passion for helping others during a crisis? A degree in emergency services management is an essential component for a progressing career in this area. One of the areas of study in emergency services management – and emergency medical service administration (EMS) – is risk management. This process ensures the consideration of critical incident factors and hazards, the blueprints for tactical operations.

The process of risk management includes five steps:  

  • Learn More About our EMS DegreesSituational Awareness
  • Hazard Assessment
  • Hazard Control
  • Decision and Trigger Points
  • Evaluate Effectiveness

Situational Awareness

Maintaining situational awareness means noticing any deviations that you are required to take.

The premise of situational awareness is to understand the total environment. When dispatched to an area, begin by considering any historical issues within the area or occupancy. Maintaining situational awareness means noticing any deviations that you are required to take. If there are discrepancies within the information that’s presented, attempt to get them resolved as soon as possible. If immediate resolution is not possible, recognize that you will need to take action at some point.

Also, emergency management professionals and EMS responders need to gather as many data points as possible regarding the incident. This knowledge includes using known factors such as dispatch information, environment, the lay of the land, the type of event they are responding to, weather and any other pertinent facts.

Hazard Assessment

Hazardous assessment involves determining the safest operational tactics to deploy. Once on scene, understand the surroundings and identify any hazards, especially those that could result in a negative impact. Emergency management involves assessing each hazard and determining their associated risks. Hazards take many forms including buildings on fire, flooding, hazardous materials, severe weather, structural collapse and more. Assess the hazard from all sides including:  

  • Above and below
  • Four directions (north, south, east, west)
  • The incident itself

Evaluate the impacts of each risk regarding probability and severity. Determine the likelihood that a hazardous event could occur and if it did, what is the severity or consequences that could arise?  Always remember that increased exposure time will increase the probability. 

Hazard Control

After you’ve conducted a hazard assessment, create tactic control measures for each of the hazards identified. These control measures will reduce risks and maximize the safety of the personnel assigned to each tactics. Some conventional control measures include:

  • Accountability
  • Air monitoring
  • Communications
  • Determining escape routes
  • Identification of proper safety zones
  • Lookouts
  • Respiratory protection
  • The use of personal protective equipment

Decision and Trigger Points

An important responsibility of emergency management professionals is defining the decision and trigger point. EMS professionals ask questions like these to determine whether to accept the calculated risks associated with this incident or to reject them:  

  • Is the action at the appropriate level of response?
  • Will the established control measures that have been offered minimize or maximize the risks identified? 
  • Will the personnel assigned to these tactics understand the implementation of the control measures?

If the risk is unacceptable, reject the action. Use a professional, factual explanation for declining the proposed solution. Some reasons for a not accepting a decision can be:

  • Proper protective gear for personnel involved is not available
  • The action decision is not in alignment with the agencies' policies and procedures
  • The result of implementation is considered an unsafe act
  • The team involved has not had training in this tactic

Trigger points are critical factors for your tactics and serve as cues to prompt you to re-evaluate the situation and associated risks. In determining and implementing the proper course of action, base trigger points on measurable factors including: incident dynamics, resource availability, time constraints, time of day, topographical boundaries and weather. As you approach a trigger point, go through the risk management process to assist you in deciding if your tactics need to change.

Evaluate Effectiveness

Evaluation of effectiveness requires you to stay on top of the situation and adjust risk controls as necessary. You must articulate the consequences of your decisions and ensure that you modify those actions if the situation changes. Communication with responders, outsiders and possibly interagency disaster management personnel is often required during and after the risk is abated.

Bio: Gary Seidel, EFOP, CFO, MPA; is a retired Fire Chief from Hillsboro Fire Department in Oregon and a retired Assistant Chief from Los Angeles Fire Department in California.