COVID-19 has flipped our world upside down. Whether you’re on the front lines of this global health crisis or doing your part by staying put, we are all coping with losses and adjusting to new routines. For those of us who are lucky to be safe at home, we are looking for new hobbies and entertainment to fill the time once occupied by sports, concerts, parties, and even mundane errands. Well, in these uncertain times, one thing has become a constant in American households… and it’s dressed in leopard print. Tiger King, a new true crime docu-series on Netflix, has captured the attention of over 34 million viewers with its volatile cast of characters viciously feuding within the world of exotic big cat conservation and collecting.
With a love for animals and a fascination with true crime, this show naturally made it to the top of my list. Almost every scene has a perplexing twist, but one particular sentence caught my attention. In an interview with the documentarians Sheriff Rhodes of Oklahoma’s Gavin County admitted that the local G.W. Zoo is what kept him up at night. It’s easy to understand why. The zoo, which houses 227 tigers (plus other exotic species) on 16 acres of land, boasts that guests can get closer to animals there than any place in the world. On top of that, it’s located in tornado alley. If that’s not enough to make your Community Risk Reduction (CRR) senses cringe, the head zookeeper was quoted saying “If they walk in here and take my animals away, it is going to be a small Waco.” (Yikes!) When I heard Sheriff Rhodes’ interview I paused the show and texted my colleague saying, “All I can think about is this town’s Community Risk Assessment!”
“What keeps you up at night?” is a question many fire chiefs and community leaders consider every day, and the answer is usually the safety of the public and the safety of first responders. The process of CRR is a tool these leaders have that can reduce the occurrence and/or impact of risks that threaten the safety of residents and responders in their community. According to NFPA 1300, the first step in the CRR process is conducting a Community Risk Assessment (CRA). A CRA is a comprehensive evaluation that identifies, prioritizes, and defines the risks that pertain to the overall community. It requires local data to help define characteristics of the community, such as its demographics, building stock, geographic landscape, and public safety response capabilities. Some of the first data sources that come to mind for a CRA are the community’s 9-1-1/incident data and Census information. These and other quantitative data are critical for assessing a community’s risks and should always be consulted when making decisions around risk reduction programs. However, some information may not be captured by public data sources, such as the number or location of wild animals being held in captivity. That’s where qualitative data comes into play. Sheriff Rhodes’ knowledge of the risks presented by the G.W. Zoo didn’t come from a spreadsheet – it came from experience. That qualitative data helps supplement quantitative data to tell the full story of his county. The institutional and personal knowledge that we each have about our community is important to a CRA.
This example may seem outlandish (the entire series is), but we all have metaphorical tigers in our community. In this way, the G. W. Zoo is also a reminder to consider the unique qualities of every community. Uniqueness makes a community great, but it can be a double-edged sword. For instance, your annual county fair may strengthen your local economy and entertain residents and visitors. But the same special event can also change the risk landscape. The fair may present overcrowding dangers, bring more motor vehicle crashes to town, and maybe even offer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pet tiger cub! (Please don’t!) Consequently, a good CRA relies on local data, because it needs to be very specific to your community. CRR is not a one-size-fits-all process because each community has unique risks, partners, resources, and capacities. We all have our own tigers.
To wrap this up for all you cool cats and kittens, in the words of former zoo manager John Reinke, “I’m sure y’all got a story to tell.” Let Tiger King be a fun reminder to let data tell the story of your community, but don’t forget to let qualitative data narrate a chapter or two. Crunch numbers, analyze trends, but also consider the “tigers” that might be lurking in your community. And when you ask yourself, “What keeps me up at night?” I sure hope the answer isn’t Joe Exotic and the G. W. Zoo.
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