By Scott Harkins, CSP,
CPCU, ARM, Senior Vice
President of Risk Control
The world is more complex today than it was when I was a kid. There is little doubt that today’s legal and economic environments make it more difficult than ever to provide emergency services. We are being asked to respond to different types of emergencies, have increased training demands and limited staffing. How do we keep track of all the changes and assure that our responders understand what is expected of them? The answer: Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
The need for SOPs (or Standard Operating Guidelines – SOGs) is not something new. One comprehensive document on developing SOPs is FEMA’s 1999 “Guide to Developing Effective Standard
Operating Procedures for Fire and EMS Departments.”
Some excerpts include:
“These guidelines … clearly spell out what is expected and required of personnel during emergency response and nonemergency activities. They provide a mechanism to communicate legal and administrative requirements, organizational policies, and strategic plans to the members. In short, they get everybody ’reading from the same sheet of music.’
“According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a standard operating procedure is ‘an organizational directive that establishes a standard course of action.’ In other words, SOPs are written guidelines that explain what is expected and required of fire service personnel in performing their jobs. A comprehensive set of SOPs defines in significant detail how the department intends to operate.
“Stated differently, SOPs don’t describe how to do the job (technical skills), they describe the department’s rules for doing the job (procedural guidance).
“Well-designed standard operating procedures help fill both needs. For individual workers, SOPs clarify job requirements and expectations in a format that can be readily applied on the job. They explain in detail what the department wants them to do in the situations they are most likely to encounter. The result is improved safety, performance, and morale. For department managers, the advantages are equally great. SOPs provide a mechanism to identify needed changes, articulate strategies, document intentions, implement regulatory requirements, enhance training, and evaluate operational performance. The result is improved operational efficiency, greater accountability, and reduced liability. Everybody’s a winner!
“In short, SOPs are a vital component of fire service administrative and emergency response operations. Departments cannot operate safely or effectively in modern society without a comprehensive set of SOPs and the management systems needed to develop and maintain them. Organizations that choose to ignore this fact are increasingly vulnerable to accidents, lawsuits, unnecessary costs, personnel problems, and damage to their professional image.”1
Few, if any, leaders in emergency service organizations would argue against improved operational efficiency and greater accountability. If you are in the majority, this is a good time to put a team together to review the SOPs you have in place, make changes where needed and develop guidance where none exists.
Sound like it might be overwhelming? VFIS can help. We have sample SOPs in the areas of vehicle operations, personnel management, fire/EMS operations, property management and administration. These can be found
under the SafetyCentral section. Feel free to browse the site and make use of the tools available. We hope they make this important task easier.
1GUIDE TO DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES FOR FIRE AND EMS DEPARTMENTS;
Federal Emergency Management Agency, United States Fire Administration; FA-197/December 1999.