Virtual Outreach: Three Ways to Protect and Serve in Times of Social Distancing

Blog Post created by kbreed Employee on Mar 25, 2020

(A recent example of a fire department using Twitter to engage community members and share safety information during the COVID-19 pandemic.)


Calling all community relations coordinators, life safety educators, community risk reduction specialists, …and all those working in the prevention space who have been grounded by COVID-19! Many outreach professionals are now tied to their desks instead of hitting the pavement and wondering how they can add value to their communities during these difficult times. While the work you are doing may look different today, there is no doubt about it: It is, and will continue to be, a critical component of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem and a valuable local asset.


Where do you start?


This part is easy. Start with your goals! Before you jump in and generate a list of activities, social media posts, and Youtube videos, think deeply about what you would like to accomplish. Then, plan with this end in mind. Goal-focused outreach will ensure you can achieve your desired impact.


Community Relations:

Outreach programs intended to help agencies and departments establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with their communities are referred to as Community Relations initiatives. They are designed to foster positive relationships between residents, business owners, and local public service agencies. The desired outcome is a sense of community connection in which residents, business owners, and the response community feel protected, supported, and engaged. 


If your goal is to build strong Community Relations, consider these virtual outreach activities:

  • Record members of your department reading books and short stories. We tend to focus on children but home bound older adults may also enjoy this.
  • Schedule a Facebook Watch Party for a virtual fire station tour.
  • Interview members of your department in a 5 question “Get to know you” series. Ask questions such as: What is your favorite safety tip? What do you want people to know most about your job? How can people in the community help you stay safe?
  • Challenge families to build and post their best “pasta box & toilet paper” firetruck


Fire & Life Safety Education (FLSE):

According to NFPA 1035, FLSE programs work to eliminate or mitigate situations that endanger lives, health, property, or the environment. Those driving fire and life safety education are looking to impact safety behaviors. Rich virtual FLSE activities include a source of foundational content, an opportunity to practice a skill, and a specific call-to-action such as “Practice your home escape plan with your entire family!”


Think creatively about how you can deliver Fire & Life Safety Education through virtual channels:

  • Share the NFPA Heating Safety tip sheet and ask families to post pics of safe home heating.
  • Provide a virtual demonstration of the Fire Triangle to explain why it is important to keep a lid close by when cooking on the stovetop. Look here for additional resources to support your cooking safety messages. 
  • Loop in your local teachers! Share resources with teachers (and new home school “teachers”!) who can benefit from virtual lesson support. Sparkyschoolhouse.org is loaded with engaging educational activities that fit the bill. Check out the suite of Sparky Apps, videos, lesson plans, and e-books.
  • Run a virtual Remembering When workshop on Facebook Live. Pick one or two fire and fall prevention behaviors each day and discuss them. Host a session at a set time and invite older adults and their family members to join in for helpful tips. You might even make use of the Remembering When trivia questions. Engage those silver surfers!


Community Risk Reduction (CRR): 

Community Risk Reduction is a process to identify and prioritize local risks, followed by the integrated and strategic investment of resources to reduce the occurrence and impact of those risks (NFPA 1300). CRR requires a good look at data to identify local needs and input from partners and stakeholders. It calls for a tailored plan to mitigate risks that have been identified as high-priority within a community. If your community is moving towards data-informed decision and risk-focused prevention, CRR is your path.


Community Risk Reduction requires thoughtful planning. As most events are cancelled, and people are working from home, take advantage of this time to focus your attention to the processes and partnerships that are core to CRR initiatives.

  • First, read NFPA 1300 Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development. This document, which can be viewed for free online, will guide your CRR work.
  • If a risk assessment has been conducted, review your community profiles and share the information with agencies involved in the COVID-19 response. The data tell important stories about the needs and capacities related to this crisis.
  • If a risk assessment has not be conducted, this is a great time to start. As we respond to the challenges of this pandemic, we are learning a lot about the demographics, economics, and infrastructure within our communities. This information provides the backbone of a CRA. Capture as much of this information as possible to feed future work related to your CRA and CRR plan.
  • As Mister Rogers taught us, “look for the helpers”. Maintain an active list of the local businesses and community service organizations who are positively impacting your community during this time of crisis. This list will help you build out the capacity component of your CRA as well as identify future CRR partners.
  • Formalize your CRR team. CRR is not a one-person show! Use this time to build a strong cross-agency team of partners and stakeholders.


Whether your goals are aligned with Community Relations, Fire & Life Safety Education, or Community Risk Reduction, your work is important. Mitigation is incredibly important, but not easy work – complacency is hard to overcome. There is true value in each of these outreach and engagement efforts, on their own, but collectively, the outcomes of this work will result in connected, safer communities.


For additional CRR resources, go to nfpa.org/CRR or reach out to the CRR team at CRR@nfpa.org. Look to nfpa.org/public-education for tips sheets, lesson plans, messaging to support your FLSE outreach.