Opportunity Recognition

Danger or Opportunity: Examining how We Perceive Large Fires
Good Situational Awareness (SA) is the rst step in the decision making process. This is based on observing and communicating what is seen, heard and felt. This allows the match of perception of the environment as closely as possible to the reality of the environment. This is a complicated process as humans tend to make decisions based on perception (observation + communication + emotion) and not necessarily on reality. Good SA equals good perception and ultimately good decisions. A common perception of re managers and line o cers is that unwanted large res must be aggressively suppressed. Simply put . . . Fire = Danger. Any other course of action, its felt, will sail into a sea fraught with failure and promote a negative public reaction. Many feel it is important to be perceived by the public to be doing everything possible to deal with the unwanted, unplanned re (danger). This is described in literature as the “Precautionary Principle.” An unwanted re in the wrong place at the wrong time is truly a danger. Recognizing this, the Agency has designed an aggressive and e ective approach to initial attack and will continue to aggressively suppress problematic res. Ironically, the ability to successfully suppress the majority of the res that occur, has allowed a drift into complacency in decision making by automatically engaging the suppression machine before mindful decisions about the e ects of the re are made. Often re is perceived to be a danger simply because it triggers dramatic change and disrupts our lives. Therefore, it is easy to choose to “ ght” the re through the application of overwhelming mass. The language used reinforces this behavior. There is a battle to contain the wild re that is “burning out of control” and “threatening” the forest. The reliance on abundance of aircraft and ground crews gives the impression it is possible to sail into safer waters, away from negative public perception, away from danger. The perception is as follows . . . more re = more re ghters. However, there is now a more broadly held understanding of the reality of re. Fire is important and necessary. Almost all of the vegetation and ecosystems in United States are re adapted and/or re evolved. Fire belongs here. Fire has always been and will always be a part of the landscape. Native Americans used re regularly. European settlers brought a negative perception of re which is still pervasive in this country. The longer re is out of the equation, the greater the impact when it is included. That is reality. Fire is not always good, re is not always bad. It just is. Like rain, too little or too much can be harmful. But, what if re was perceived as opportunity? What if this latest escaped re was seen as an opportunity to nally allow re on the landscape, to reset the ecological clock. This re could allow for a more “ reproof” community which no longer had to stop worrying every summer about evacuations. This re could allow stronger bonds with neighbors and bring the community together.


Opportunity Recognition
Imagine if every re was viewed as an opportunity to think carefully about when, where and how much risk the lives of our young men and women should be exposed to? Often the risk from the values to be protected (infrastructure, threat to an endangered species, historic cabin, etc) is transferred directly to the re ghters and into the cockpits of aircraft. What is truly a greater danger (risk); a closed highway or 100 re ghters and multiple aircraft working to keep the highway open? This leads to a simple question when looking at a re; is the danger real or perceived; is aggressively suppressing the re truly worth the risk? An excerpt from a recent article in the December edition of the Journal of Forestry: “External Human Factors in Incident Management Team Decision Making and Their E ect on Large Fire Suppression Expenditures” accurately depicts the decision dilemma. “Sociologist W. I. Thomas wrote, “If men de ne things as real, they are real in their consequences” (as cited by McHugh 1968, p. 7). Because perceptions are reality in a person’s mind, decisions are made based on those perceptions. This means a tendency toward risk aversion and a shrinking pool of midlevel re managers may continue, as will increase costs, unless the perception is changed.”

Basing Strategy and Tactics on Recognizing Opportunity
Traditional wildland re strategies start with an anchor point and then require an ever-increasing insertion of people and equipment until either a direct or indirect line is completed. This traditional strategy is based on Agency Administrator and incident managers’ perceptions of threats (dangers) and rarely considers the naturally pre-determined, and possibly inevitable, path of the re.


Opportunity Recognition
Consider if a strategy was developed based on hot, dry and unstable weather, Type I crews and aviation resources being in short supply and recognition that the frightened public is reacting emotionally to their perceptions of the danger of re and smoke? Consider whether this strategy would not transfer risk to re ghters? And, whether the strategy developed would not saddle the taxpayers with the nancial burden of a multi-million dollar re? What would that strategy look like? Additionally, what if the strategy saw re as an inevitable occurrence and the re was managed with the view that considered the next re as pre-determined and inevitable. This more enlightened strategy would recognize the role of re in shaping vegetation and ecosystems, yielding a re management strategy that considered all risks, opportunities and outcomes, rather than just “ ghting the re, or battling the ames.

A Large Fire Story
Initial Attack of the Big Pine Fire was unsuccessful. The IMT was able to protect the nearby community but nine days later only 40 percent of the re is contained and the remainder is in rough terrain. Rain is 4-6 weeks out. The re is not going away anytime soon and, frankly, a few Red Flag days could make the situation worse. The re could make another run at the community if several factors line up. Six hundred re ghters are committed to the incident. The cost to date is $6 million and the daily cost rate is $900,000. Smoke is impacting the adjacent National Park. The Governor has called, twice. What is your perception; one of danger or one of opportunity? Either way, now is the time to develop a very clear and succinct strategy. Identify the values at risk. Identify the dangers and then look at the opportunities. There are a number of non-traditional strategies that may o er opportunities.

Recognizing Opportunity
Flashing back to the Big Pine Fire, why wait for the inevitable Red Flag conditions? Knowing overwhelming mass is going to be ine ective in the rough terrain and knowing an alignment of conditions will create a negative outcome, then where are the opportunities? Where could and should the appropriate amount of force be applied? Where are the trigger points that can prevent the next run at town? Is the insertion of small mobile assets to signi cantly alter the undesirable scenario possible? Are there options to check, direct and delay with minimal re ghter exposure? Just because the anks can be secured, will it make any di erence to the community? Scientist and analyst have made great strides in technology and predictive services in the last few years. Decision makers now have the ability to identify windows of opportunity. Surgically applying burn-out operations, securing a key piece of


Opportunity Recognition
ground or expanding and contracting suppression resources, to be in the right place at that right time, is now a realistic approach. Traditional burn-outs have an anchor point and a tie-in point. This common-sense approach is safe and e ective and has been used for decades. It works on the vast majority of res. Some res, especially the large, long duration res may warrant unanchored burn-outs that target fuel reduction and re behavior mitigation and not necessarily perimeter containment. These actions can mitigate re and suppression impacts, ensure community protection and can be done under the most favorable conditions. This is in contrast to waiting on the re while fuels become drier and the probability of experiencing Red Flag conditions is near 100 percent. Choose the ground to hold very carefully. Remember size is less important than positive or negative impacts on the landscape. Place re on the ground on re management terms not on the re’s terms. Don’t wait until the re is at the edge of what is at risk; don’t be reactive. Consider a well-planned night burn-out. Timing can limit costly and often unnecessary “line prep” by nding the right ground. If the land is under a di erent ownership work with the landowner to achieve a reasonable objective, explain to the landowner the idea of opportunity. Large res often cost more than $1 million/day. Find a way to explain your predicament to the land owner. It is after all, their tax money. Do a cost analysis, is “buying” the good ground more cost e ective? Run it up the decision tree and see what happens. Favorable fuels + good ground + Predictive Services = Opportunity Heavy fuels + bad ground + reacting = Increased Fire ghter Exposure When developing a large re strategy, plan for allowing ICS to expand and contract as it was intended. Designate Trigger Points and Management Action Points (MAPs) that are designed to activate the necessary resources/actions at the right time and at the right place. For re ground decision makers, it is important to view this one re as a small component of a much larger puzzle: a puzzle that includes long-term ecological impacts, as well as short-term fears and perceptions, and is able to recognize and act upon opportunity.


Social Networking
Community - Agency Interaction
A Joint Fire Science project conducted on Forest Service res in 2008 explored how community-agency interaction in uenced the exercise of Appropriate Management Response. This was evaluated from the forest, incident management team and the community perspectives. As a result of the research, several recommendations have been made with the hypothesis that initiating the recommended actions will result in better understanding and support of re management activities. The recommendations included: • • • • Pre-season interaction with communities around re-prone areas; Manage community and cooperator expectations before an event occurs; More timely and widespread dissemination of information; and Better coordination and information sharing internally and externally.

Data collected in 2008 will be used to craft a survey that will be administered in 2009 to a broader segment of the public in three, re-a ected communities. This will allow for a systematic and comprehensively approach to assess public attitudes about re management strategies and tactics and also will help determine if the above noted recommendations improved community-agency interaction.

Network Mapping
Network Mapping is how we build a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more speci c types of relationships. In this case, we are interested in relationships or ties related to wild re. Nodes are the individuals within the networks, and ties are the relationships between the individuals. There can be many kinds of relationships between these individuals: work, social, family, common interests, etc. Social networks operate on many levels and play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals. In its simplest form, a social network is a map of individuals that serves as a visual tool to identify those whom with they communicate and the type of relationships they have. Visual representation of social networks is important to be able to see the strengths and weaknesses of your communications. Seeing the people you talk to and the relationships you have, laid out in a map, makes it obvious where the bottlenecks are and where good communication ows. There are two primary bene ts of network mapping. First it can identify where communication breakdowns are occurring between and within groups; and second it can identify individuals with knowledge that might be useful, but are not being tapped.




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