An introduction to NFPA 1600 for public works organizations

MaryAnn E. Marrocolo
Director, Recovery and Mitigation
New York City Office of Emergency Management
Member, APWA Emergency Management Committee

The public works community is an essential component to comprehensive, effective, and efficient emergency management/business continuity programs. While public safety agencies provide the "lights and sirens" response, it is the public works entities that provide the technical know-how and muscle to restore a community following a disaster.

Over the past decade, emergency management and business continuity planning have been recognized as necessary to continued operational success in both the public and private sectors. Key to this was the development and widespread use of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs (NFPA 1600).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) endorse this standard. Additionally, NFPA 1600 has been utilized as the foundation for emergency management program assessment through the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). Most recently, the 9/11 Commission endorsed NFPA 1600 for private sector preparedness and urged the Department of Homeland Security to promote its adoption.

NFPA 1600 provides a common set of criteria for public or private entities to conduct a systematic assessment of existing programs, or to develop, implement, and maintain a program to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and emergencies.

Originally a recommended practice in 1991, NFPA 1600 was formally adopted at the NFPA annual meeting in 1995. Subsequently it was revised in 2000 and, most recently, the NFPA 1600 Committee has worked to update the standard in light of rapidly changing professional practices—a new version of NFPA 1600 was made available in February 2004.

NFPA 1600 is divided into several sections and includes a set of supporting appendices that provide additional explanatory information. Combined, the elements of NFPA 1600 provide a framework for developing a comprehensive emergency management/business continuity program while still accounting for the unique needs of individual organizations.

NFPA 1600 is considered an excellent benchmark for planners in both the public and private sectors. This standard provides numerous methodologies for defining and identifying risk and vulnerabilities within a community or business/service organization, as well as thorough planning guidelines addressing:

  • Stabilizing the restoration of the physical infrastructure
  • Protecting the health and life safety of personnel and citizens
  • Crisis communications procedures and management structures for both short-term recovery and ongoing long-term continuity of operations; and
  • Methodologies for exercising those plans

NFPA 1600 allows public works entities to:

  • Employ a systematic process to develop emergency and business continuity plans
  • Provide a structure for continued operations during times of crisis
  • Offer a mechanism to integrate into the larger public safety system

This reaps several rewards, including increased awareness of the public works role in emergency management as well as a support network of public safety technical expertise that can enhance public works operations.

Key Areas for Public Works

New York City's infrastructure and utility agencies staff the City's Emergency Operations Center during the Republican National Convention

Operations and Procedures. A public works entity must establish written policies and procedures for managing an incident across the lifecycle of that incident—from an initial assessment (situation analysis/damage assessment) to recovery and mitigation of future similar incidents for the hazards that entity has identified as being credible. These policies and procedures must consider the health and safety of personnel responding to and operating within the confines of the incident area and a succession plan to ensure continuity of decision-making.

Logistics and Facilities. A public works entity should have a plan in place to manage the movement of its assets, from receiving a request to delivering the asset to meet that request. This is often referred to as supply-chain management and, within NFPA 1600, includes the following steps: locating, acquiring, storing, distributing, maintaining, testing, and accounting for these assets.

New York City Department of Buildings Inspectors participate in a damage assessment exercise

Equally important within this section is the provision outlining the requirement for a primary and alternate command center/operations center from which to manage response and recovery operations. For a public works entity, having an incident management facility is essential to ensure continued operation of critical business processes as well as an expeditious resumption of interrupted processes.

Resource Management. A public works entity must maintain an inventory of its assets—facilities, personnel, fleet, equipment and supplies, and contracting mechanisms—as well as maintain an understanding of where assets fall short of potential response needs. In addition, this inventory should include information on the type (specifications), quantity, and location of the assets. Specifically with location, the entity should be able to determine the response time to an incident. When planning for the deployment of assets, a public works entity should consider the requirements for supporting that asset, such as maintenance and fueling. Finally, the cost-benefit of utilizing an asset should be considered, such as time needed for deployment versus expected use in incident response and liability associated with use.

NFPA 1600 is an excellent tool for public works entities to plan, organize, and integrate their emergency management and business continuity programs. Utilizing NFPA 1600 will raise awareness of the public works role in emergency management and establish opportunities to partner with other entities to enhance operations. Key areas to focus on within NFPA 1600 for public works entities are: Operations and Procedures, Logistics and Facilities, and Resource Management.

The 2004 edition of NFPA 1600 is available for free and can be downloaded from the NFPA website at

Views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NFPA or the NFPA 1600 Technical Committee. To contact the author, a principal member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Disaster and Emergency Management and a member of the APWA Emergency Management Technical Committee, send e-mail to or call (718) 422-4835.

New York City infrastructure and public safety agencies work side-by-side to mitigate the impacts of an explosion on 19th Street in Manhattan