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PPC: Evaluating fire protection at the grass roots

Evaluating fire protection in the United States is about more than pins on a map. It’s not enough to know where the fire stations are. And using mileage or travel time alone is a pitfall. Without other variables, the likely result is misclassification of risks, as Verisk research has shown.

Insurers measuring the level of protection in a community need to know which station responds first to every address, who and what are inside those stations, where the firefighters get their water, and a host of other data points.

This depth of knowledge is built on relationships—the kind of relationships ISO has developed with fire services over decades, from the largest city departments to the smallest rural volunteer companies. Out of that knowledge come ISO’s PPC® (Public Protection Classification) ratings to help property insurers assess fire protection capabilities at point of sale and renewal.

Those relationships are supported by the larger ecosystem of ISO Community Hazard Mitigation, of which PPC is a part. ISO’s mitigation staff visits thousands of communities every year to conduct classes and train fire departments, municipalities, and residents. Year-round interactions give ISO the inside track for updating the data that drives PPC.

ISO relies on several sources of information to help decide when to reevaluate a community’s Public Protection Classification grading:

  • Community outreach — About every two years, ISO sends a Community Outreach Questionnaire to officials in thousands of communities across the United States. The questionnaire seeks details of any significant changes in fire protection capabilities since the last PPC evaluation along with mapping of any changes in protection boundaries, locations of fire stations, and other relevant items. This data helps determine where new surveys might change a PPC or the geographic area it covers.
  • Community contact — Community officials know to contact ISO to request a questionnaire if there are changes that might warrant a survey to reevaluate their PPC. They do so—proactively—because PPC is essential for maintaining correct insurance information to benefit local property owners.
  • Other sources — ISO monitors local news outlets for reports related to fire protection and receives information from insurance companies, agents, and local citizens. A media search algorithm scans millions of media sources to glean timely, relevant information that might warrant a mapping update, follow-up with appropriate senior officials, or a new survey.

Survey says…

Regardless of any information received about local changes, ISO periodically performs a survey to confirm or update the existing PPC and its geographic coverage. The process begins with contacting appropriate community officials to set the inspection date, which is confirmed and finalized through follow-up contacts.

The survey itself involves gathering written information; interviewing officials responsible for emergency communications, the fire department, and water supplies; and conducting on-site inspections of facilities and resources. Lines of communication are open before, during, and after the survey; and ISO representatives—at no charge—can help local officials review their PPC and changes that might improve the grade.

All of this adds up to countless hours of personal contact and relationship building, which takes the evaluation process beyond a simple exercise in map reading and number crunching. A full appraisal of firefighting capabilities depends on data that doesn’t reside in any central repository. To find that information, ISO’s PPC goes the extra mile.

Josh Gibbons

Josh Gibbons is product director for ISO’s PPC program. He can be reached at

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