|6. Cooperative Programs|
Cooperation is difficult to define because it can mean different things to each entity involved. The act of cooperating also takes on unique qualities in each situation. This section describes a process that may be adopted for use by many agencies for a common purpose, in this case, wildland fire management. Some alliances may be short in duration and scope, others more long-term. Regardless of the duration, most will require planning, nurturing, and formal documenting.
Fire agencies have a history of cooperation, most often occurring
on a voluntary basis to overcome a lack of fire resources. Fire
education, prevention, and mitigation programs often find
themselves involved in collaborative partnerships as well.
Diminishing budgets and increased expectations of public services
Benefits of Cooperation
For example, fires in the WUI challenge both structural and wildland firefighters, who are trained and equipped differently. Wildland firefighting agencies are now faced with an increased number of homes built in the path of wildfires, and their municipal counterparts are grappling with multiple ignitions from fast-burning vegetative fires. Everyone agrees that no single agency is adequately prepared to handle both types of firefighting. Suppression of these fires is directed by a unified command, involving structural fire departments protecting structures and wildland fire suppression agencies suppressing the wildfire.
The problem is compounded by the fact that wildfires do not acknowledge boundaries of community, land management agencies, or fire districts. Therefore, agencies responding to fires in WUI areas must develop combined, coordinated efforts to be effective.
Wildland fire management influences many aspects of the WUI, such as healthy forests and sustainable wildlife habitat, clean water, recreational access needs, insect and disease encroachment, hydrologic impacts, scenic views, wildlife, and needs for environmental education. All stakeholders involved also need to understand these "quality of life" issues as valued by the people living in local areas. This understanding will help provide opportunities for cooperation between citizens and those organizations mandated to protect their properties and adjacent resources from wildfire. Governmental agencies must understand and clearly illustrate their specific roles in managing wildland fire and ensure that the public shares the responsibility for the resolution of these problems.
Managing a wildland fire problem requires a community and interagency understanding of all resource
An example of wildland fire cooperation on a national level is the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG). The purpose of the NWCG is to design and coordinate programs of the participating agencies to avoid wasteful duplication and to provide a means of constructively working together.
Numerous coordinating groups of smaller scope (regional, state, and local) can be found across the country. Other examples of cooperation can be found in the efforts of private associations, citizen groups, and governmental organizations. Examples of cooperators include The Nature Conservancy, State Wildlife Agencies, State Natural Heritage Programs, as well as state forestry agencies, tribal governments and federal land management agencies.
According to the NWCG, fire prevention and education includes all of "the actions taken to limit the
Factors that facilitate cooperation
Utilizing the six-step process outlined below will help establish partnerships in a cooperative
approach to wildfire prevention. These general collaboration techniques can be applied directly to
the establishment of various partnerships within fire management including cooperative fire
education or mitigation programs.
1. Identify Partners and Get Commitment
Work with fellow agencies in your area to determine who should take the lead role in cooperating with rural and urban fire departments for wildland fire protection. In some cases it may be state forestry agencies due to their existing relationships with other state agencies and their responsibility to protect rural lands. In other cases it may be federal agencies due to federal fire assistance programs.
It is important that the interests of each agency,
organization, or group be carefully acknowledged in the
Establish a dialogue among the agencies and organizations that can increase the level of fire protection. Concentrate on those agencies you know that may be asking the same questions, and seeking similar solutions.
Fire prevention should be a shared responsibility among those who live and work in the same area. Identifying many potential partners and seeking their ideas and suggestions will increase the level of cooperation as they, at least, agree to agree. The responsibility for fire management centers on fire agencies, but the overall responsibility for fire prevention resides in a network of private and public organizations, businesses, and, of course, the residents themselves.
2. Define the Current Situation
3. Define Roles and Responsibilities
The interests of each agency, organization, or group must be carefully acknowledged in this process. No one group's mission is more important than another. Each partner must operate within legal boundaries, and this step will identify barriers, conflicting regulations, and laws that may need alteration for overall public benefit.
Organizational ethics, accountability, and credibility are an integral part of roles and responsibilities and must be upheld by each partner. The appearance or actual establishment of "conflict of interest" must be avoided. Endorsement of commercial products, services, or entities should be avoided unless authorized. Legal requirements relating to procurement, personnel, labor, printing, and publishing must be honored.
4. Set Goals and Objectives
Often goals and objectives involve formal protection assistance agreements. There are generally four types of protection assistance methods that can be employed between fire agencies. Agencies may choose to use one or all four or a combination. These four methods enable protection assistance between signing agencies and organizations. Each agency may also have additional legal requirements that need to be considered.
Partners often agree to more than one form of protection assistance. Moreover, assistance
can be employed back-to-back, such as reciprocal assistance followed by reimbursable
assistance. Depending on the particular needs of a community or agency, the various
protection assistance methods offer a variety of approaches to securing needed resources
and providing coordinated responses. Besides direct protection and suppression, there are
many other ways that fire agencies and organizations can cooperate. Regardless of type,
developing cooperative fire agreements requires a systematic approach to planning.
5. Document and Implement the Plan
Written cooperative fire prevention agreements exist between most federal agencies and most federal and state forestry organizations. They can be found in Mobilization Guides and in individual agency manual directives. Higher level written cooperative agreements are the enabling documents for lower level agreements for the same participating agencies. Written agreements may also document plans, requirements, and/or decisions for specific projects or purposes (e.g., interagency prescribed burn projects, arson task forces, use of state National Guard resources in wildfire emergencies).
It is important to ensure that each cooperator understands the role and responsibility before them. Individual agency missions and capabilities must be honored and incorporated in the documentation. Whether your agency and the other partners have planned for reciprocal, offset, reimbursable, or a fee-based protection service, each should be fully prepared to follow through with agreed upon methods.
There are two sub-agreements that are connected to so-called "master" cooperative fire protection agreements. They are annual operating plans and supplemental cost-share agreements. They add both time- and situation-sensitive details to cooperative fire protection agreements which tend to be multi-year documents.
Interrelated types of fire protection agreements include:
Annual Operating Plans
Annual operating plans outline specific procedures between parties at each local geographic area implementing a master cooperative fire protection agreement. They often include how information will be transferred and processed, specific billing procedures, dispatch coordination, reciprocal and/or offset exchange zones (if used), fire resource directories, and other important logistical information.
6. Evaluate and Revise the Plan
Every annual operating plan will need some adjustment, particularly in its early stages. Often, joint training sessions and exercises help to test the plan before fire season. In this way, procedural problems can be worked out prior to an emergency.
When fire season arrives, efforts will be realized. The meetings, the discussions, the training - all will result in more effective and efficient operations, working together rather than separately. Following each project in the plan that was activated, hold debriefings with the other partners to make adjustments before the next activity.
Like other tools, working cooperatively with others can also improve the effectiveness and efficiency
Businesses and others in the private sector can be an excellent partner for your fire communication
program. It's important to be aware of how the potential partner's needs fit into your program. All
agencies have guidelines for working with partners. Before formalizing an agreement, be certain to
ask the following questions:
The process of forming a corporate partnership is similar to a cooperative fire protection agreement, with some modification.
1. Identify your objectives.
2. Identify target companies.
If there is difficulty in identifying a list of companies, the local chamber of commerce may have insight into the most active and concerned corporate citizens. Please be sure to contact them. They are an excellent resource to have.
3. Identify specific program ideas for each company.
4. Identify approximate costs for each program.
When working with outside vendors (such as designers or advertisers) to get price estimates, make sure the vendors provide the total price of completing a project. Often, items such as tax, shipping, and overrun costs (for printed materials) are not included in budget estimates. These "hidden" costs can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars and result in a project running over budget. It is always a good practice to increase budget estimates to take into account any such hidden costs or price increases (paper costs, for example, increase several times annually) that might arise. If a company agrees to pay $5,000, and the program ends up at $5,500, the agency may have to make up the difference. On the other hand, if under budget, money can be returned, to the delight of the sponsor.
5. Determine the appropriate contact at each company.
6. Submit a proposal.
7. Schedule a meeting/presentation.
Flexibility is a key when talking to a company. Some of the proposal will result in an interest
in the campaign, but not necessarily in the suggested program. Be willing to work with the
company to tailor a program especially for them. Make sure the company understands that
any assistance they can offer will help to make the area fire safe. Remember, too, that rarely
will the agency get something for nothing in a co-op effort. The sponsor may want to
redesign artwork, have its logo prominently displayed, etc. Again, be flexible - the most
important thing is that the message gets out. Also, don't assume that just because a
8. Work with the company throughout the program.
Be sure to review any copy or artwork before it goes to print. Changes may have been made to your originals that result in faulty, incomplete, or misleading information being communicated. While complete control over the artwork that is selected may not be available, control over the message that is conveyed must be maintained. Make sure that it says what needs to be said.
9. Express your appreciation.
Consider recognizing cooperative sponsors with a special award that expresses appreciation for their involvement. Engraved plaques or framed certificates are thoughtful gifts that will tell the sponsor how significant and appreciated their support is. Depending on the depth of a sponsor's commitment (money, time, service, etc.), host a news conference, or at least distribute a local news release, to unveil the cooperative program to the media. Public recognition such as this can go a long way toward encouraging repeat participation in the cooperative effort. The more aware sponsors are of gratitude and need for them, the more likely they will be to renew their pledge to help in the future.
In the event that the company cannot sponsor the project at this time, sending a thank you letter to acknowledge their time is also appropriate and may result in the company sponsoring a future project.