ISO Reevaluates Its System And Charleston, S.C. Rating

Michael R. Waters
Vice President
Insurance Services Office, Inc.

Fire is the single largest cause of loss in terms of dollars paid to property insurance policyholders. And insurers have long recognized the direct statistical correlation between effective fire protection and lower losses – and the subsequent effect on insurance premiums.

ISO’s Public Protection Classification (PPC) program measures the relative differences in levels of structural fire protection in more than 46,000 communities across the country, including municipalities in the five independent bureau states. The program provides an objective countrywide standard that measures a community’s ability to suppress fires and helps fire departments in planning and budgeting for facilities, equipment, and training. Consequently, virtually all insurers rely on the ISO PPC program in marketing, underwriting, and pricing personal and commercial property insurance policies.

Fire Suppression Capability

It is important to understand that PPC does not measure fire ground tactics or decision making and that PPC results are not used by insurance companies in isolation. They are typically one part of a larger evaluation that looks at many factors, including historical loss experience, to help determine premiums for insurance policies. And it’s the advisory nature of the PPC program that gives insurers the basis to distinguish differences in the levels of risk between communities.

Public Protection Classifications are derived from application of the ISO Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS). The FSRS provides a comprehensive, standardized review of a community’s structural fire-suppression capabilities – not just the fire department itself. The evaluation encompasses analyses of emergency fire alarm communication systems (10 percent); the availability of water for firefighting, including water mains and hydrants (40 percent); and the operational readiness of the fire department (50 percent). With respect to the fire department, the evaluation includes criteria relative to apparatus, equipment, staffing, training, and the geographical distribution of fire companies. A community evaluation begins with a review of the commercial and residential fire load within the boundaries of protection as it relates to the types of structures that contribute to needed fire flows. Factors considered include a structure’s construction, occupancy and protection.

The measurements in the FSRS rely in large part on the current standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) to help establish protection classifications. ISO also participates directly in the standard-making process through representation on several key technical committees.

ISO has been formally reevaluating the FSRS itself for the past 18 months. Working in conjunction with the firefighting community, water suppliers, and emergency communications officials, we are analyzing a number of possible revisions, including enhanced references to NFPA and AWWA standards. These include specifically using the NFPA 1901 standard as a replacement for an ISO-produced list of equipment for engines, ladders, and service vehicles; consideration of measurable efforts to control the frequency and severity of structural fires through safety education and code enforcement; and credit for attainment of national accreditation in water, fire and emergency communications. For more information on the draft concept FSRS 2009 can be found at

ISO employs a number of active and retired firefighters, including several command officers, with one of the largest number of NFPA Certified Protection Fire Specialists on its staff. ISO requests updated information from communities at least every 24 months through its Community Outreach Program. We provide expert assistance directly to community officials, enabling detailed analysis of their PPC information in a number of ways, including dedicated PPC customer service staff; two Web sites containing valuable technical information and specific details of a community’s protection tools; and ISO training on the essentials of the FSRS through participation in state and regional fire service association conferences and seminars. These services are available free of charge to communities.

A Painful Reminder

Unfortunately, fires occur despite the best preventative efforts of municipal governments and fire departments. ISO has carefully followed the after-incident reports concerning the tragic Charleston Super Sofa store fire since its occurrence in 2007. The fire was a painful reminder of the ever-present danger of firefighting itself. Early in 2007, Charleston was scheduled for its PPC reevaluation in 2008. Working with the full cooperation of local officials, ISO began the process in December. This reevaluation has not yet been completed, and ISO will provide city officials with the updated information when it becomes available.

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