In the United States, homeowner insurance policies that cover damage and loss due to fire generally require communities to be rated based on the level and sufficiency of fire protection services available to the community. These services include items such as adequate dispatch systems and well-trained and proximate fire departments. The Insurance Services Office assigns communities to a specific class within the Public Protection Classification system. This insurance protection class essentially grades the community’s level of fire protection services. Insurance companies use this class rating to establish fire insurance premiums.
ISO stands for the Insurance Services Office, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Verisk Analytics. ISO provides actuarial and statistical services to a number of industries, including the insurance industry. The company maintains a vast database full of millions of data points, all of which help it to categorize and classify various types of risk.
The purpose of the protection class ratings is to assess and quantify the risk of fire damage on a community-wide level for insurance purposes. By utilizing accurate, current data to track and measure the level of risk based on objectively measurable factors, ISO helps insurance companies set premium rates and manage risk.
The ISO ratings are not consumer-oriented measurements. They are not typically disclosed to the general public, fire services professionals or elected officials. Rather, they’re meant as a tool for industry professionals. Consequently, the use of the ISO class ratings outside the scope of that intended context is unadvisable.
ISO protection assessments are divided into 11 classes that carry different associated meanings and conclusions. An ISO class rating of one to eight conveys exemplary fire protection readiness for a community. When a community is given a classification in any of these first eight classes, it means that the ISO review found the community properly prepared to respond to fire emergencies within its boundaries. This readiness is reflected in such factors as a qualified emergency dispatch center staffed by trained responders, an adequate water supply to fight fires and a well-trained fire department that is prepared and ready to respond effectively to fire emergency calls. It also indicates that each agency or department responsible for any aspect of fire safety has met or exceeded all Fire Suppression Rating Schedule criteria.
If a community is classified into the ISO rating of 8B, it means that the ISO review process found it had an adequate dispatch center and a properly trained fire department but an insufficient water supply. Under the ISO's Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, communities are evaluated on the sufficiency of the area’s designated water supply to meet perceived needs for fire emergency response. If the water supply is deemed inadequate yet the community has provided additional training, equipment or management techniques to compensate for that perceived deficiency, then ISO assigns the 8B rating. Without those compensatory factors, the community is given the less desirable classification rating of nine, which could negatively impact insurance offerings in the area.
ISO assigns a class nine rating to communities that lack a water supply sufficient to respond to fire events and that have not compensated for that lack through a combination of training, equipment or management techniques. Class nine communities have adequate dispatch centers and well-trained fire departments. However, the lack of an adequate water supply is deemed a significant disadvantage to a community’s fire preparedness plans.
Communities that do not meet the ISO’s minimum standards receive the ISO's class 10 rating. This rating indicates the lack of an adequate dispatch center, properly trained fire department and adequate water supply to handle major fire events. These factors are analyzed under a number of different variables. For example, if a community’s primary responding fire department is more than five miles away from the community it serves, this distance will qualify the community for a class 10 rating.
ISO provides classification ratings for communities solely to insurance companies and insurance agents. The company does not make their rating decisions directly available to the general public or to insurance policyholders.
A fire department ISO rating lookup tool is not available online, unfortunately. However, proprietary documents to the ISO can be purchased by qualified users. Firefighting units and elected officials can contact ISO directly in order to find out more information about the protection classification assigned to their communities and to discover what other assistance ISO can offer.