Civil Unrest and How it is Impacting First Responders Nationwide

Authors:  Jason Fuller, Kaitlynn Edwards, Lauren Cantley

On behalf of the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), Public Consulting Group (PCG) recently partnered with FedWriters to complete a research and analysis report on the national impact civil unrest events have on the fire and EMS community. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), “…in legal terms, civil unrest or civil disturbance means acts of violence and disorder detrimental to the public law and order. It includes acts such as riots, acts of violence, insurrections, unlawful obstructions, or assemblages…”[1]

The primary objective of the study is to provide agencies with a before, during, and after reference guide on how to plan, prepare, mitigate, respond to, and recover from occurrences of civil unrest. The study aims to inform and educate the fire and EMS community regarding the specific dangers that first responders can encounter during civil unrest events.

PCG’s approach included researching civil unrest events (predominantly those that occurred within the last decade), interviewing fire and EMS communities nationwide who were on the frontlines of these events, and writing a final report with our findings. Included in this report are standard operating procedure recommendations available to fire and EMS leaders to develop policies and procedures relating to civil unrest. The full report will be published and available on the USFA website for viewing.

This extensive report highlights many aspects of how civil unrest affects the fire and EMS community, centered on the following topics: personnel, station and facility, apparatus, community, operational, and lastly a summary of best practices and lessons learned. The report additionally provides crucial insight for those outside the fire and EMS community on how it needs to be better protected both on the frontlines and off.

A summary of best practices and lessons learned include:

  • Responders should be issued and trained in using their nonstandard ballistic PPE prior to civil unrest events.
  • Efforts should be made to ensure that policies will be in place to give personnel guidance while allowing them to accomplish their missions during an event and should be exposed to as few events as possible.
  • First responders must be given an area in which they can decompress and communicate their feelings with their coworkers in a safe manner.
  • Agencies should have administrative safeguards in place consisting of policies and procedures that staff can refer to should an incident occur, such as any changes in response policy, in where and how staff report to duty, and any other important operational considerations.
  • Make sure personnel have a plan in place in case the station becomes unsafe and that a backup facility to which personnel can relocate has been identified.
  • Following a civil unrest event, review how effective the safeguards that were in place functioned. Consider utilizing any of the problems that are discovered as potential lessons learned in future training or policy decisions.

With the fire and EMS community lacking both knowledge-based and material resources to fully manage civil unrest events, PCG’s hope is that this report can be used as a comprehensive guide to handle all aspects of these events with no topic left off the table.

If you feel like your fire/EMS department may be missing the mark or need assistance with operational problems you are facing, PCG can help! Please feel free to visit our Public Safety Consulting Services website for more information or reach out to us directly at

[1] National Fire Protection Agency. Civil Unrest. PDF file. 2015.

Posted by Nora Culeton

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