Dealing with Wildfires: Insights from the Fort McMurray Reviews


 
04 August 2017

published by https://www.linkedin.com


Canada - In the last few months, a number of reviews covering the 2016 Horse River wildfire, commonly referred to as the Fort McMurray wildfire, have been published. These reviews contain a broad range of insights and recommendations which make for some interesting reading. Having gone through these documents, there are three key insights that I would recommend paying close attention to. These insights apply not only to wildfires, but to almost any major emergency that we might face in the future:

1. The Private Sector is a Critical Partner

MNP's reveiw of the 2016 Horse River wildfire, which was commissioned by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, identified the need to work with the private sector, mainly oil sands companies in this case, during the emergency. These oil sands operators have significant assets and operations in the area and play a key leadership role locally. They have access to resources, skills and knowledge which could be very useful in an emergency. Very importantly, this industry plays a vital role in the local as well as national economy and its shutdown was a key factor in the significant economic impact created by the wildfire. KPMG's review of the wildfire, which was carried out for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, also mentioned that the private sector were not fully engaged with, in terms of communication, in the early stages of the emergency.

My team's work on the 2013 Calgary Flood, the Boston Marathon bombing and my own research on building resilience for future emergencies have all indicated the importance of integrating the private sector into emergency responses. KPMG's review also recommended the inclusion of industry partners in planning and mitigation to improve resilience. What concerns me is that poor integration of the private sector into emergency planning and response continues to emerge as a theme in after action reviews. We have had enough evidence for some time to indicate this is an absolute necessity and need to ensure that our plans and preparations for any disaster include key private sector partners.

2. Interoperability Must Work Across All Aspects of an Emergency

The MNP report highlighted the fact that municipal and wildland firefighters were operating on different radio frequencies, which created a number of issues when it came to communications interoperability and sharing of situational awareness. The same report identified the lack of a unified command structure in the early stages of the emergency, with various responding agencies operating almost independently of one another rather than as a unified, interoperable whole. The KPMG report cited issues around information flows and the use of multiple information management systems that resulted in confusion, indicating a lack of interoperability in this key area. In modern emergencies, information and data flows have become absolutely crucial and as my team's study tour to New York after Hurricane Sandy found out, if you lose the data, you can lose the emergency.

Interoperability today requires organizations to be able to work almost seamlessly in the face of major emergencies. This is not simply about having interoperable communications - it requires interoperable equipment, information sharing, processes and people. The issues around a lack of interoperable communications, especially in the first responder community, have long been recognized. While steps are being taken to rectify this issue, there are concerns about the amount of time it is taking to make significant progress. Working effectively with partners across all aspects of an emergency is crucial as no organization will be able to deal with every single major emergency it faces on its own. This requires effective interoperability across the board. The reports from KPMG and MNP on the Fort McMurray wildfire indicate we still have some way to go before we see effective interoperability across all areas in an emergency response.

3. The Lessons Learned Trap

From my perspective, one of the most important points raised in the KPMG report was the statement they made early on about lessons learned: "Lessons are knowledge or understanding gained by experience. When they are identified it is as an area for improvement or action to be sustained, while when they are learned, they have been implemented and embedded within the organization." Too often we confuse lessons identified with lessons learned. Many organizations carry out after action reviews and label all the lessons identified as lessons learned, without considering whether the organization has actually acted on the lessons. This may be part of the reason why the two issues I raised around integrating the private sector and improving interoperability keep getting mentioned in after action reviews, time after time. Unfortunately, I have a strong suspicion that these issues will be raised again in future action reviews. It will be interesting to see if they appear when the after action reviews of the wildfires currently burning in British Columbia are completed.

We need to ensure that the lessons learned trap is avoided at all costs. Identifying lessons or insights from each and every major emergency we encounter is important. But to be able to improve our responses and build resilience to emergencies of the future, we have to to truly LEARN these lessons and not simply identify and document them. Until we act on the lessons, we should never refer to them as lessons learned.

Conclusion

There are plenty of lessons identified in the reports from MNP and KPMG on the response to the Horse River (Fort McMurray) wildfire. Three key lessons stand out for me. Firstly, we have to integrate the private sector into our emergency management plans and responses. Secondly, interoperability between all responding parties needs to work seamlessly across the board and not just from a communications perspective. And finally, beware the lessons learned trap - we need to ensure that we are learning the lessons from previous emergencies and not simply identifying them and leaving them on a shelf. Ensuring that these three key issues are dealt with could go a long way in improving your resilience to future emergencies.

For more insights on emergency management and building resilience, check out my team's work on the Conference Board of Canada's website or join me in April 2018 when I will be chairing the Conference Board's annual Resilience conference.

An international team of climate researchers from the US, South Korea and the UK has developed a new wildfire and drought prediction model for southwestern North America. Extending far beyond the current seasonal forecast, this study published in the journal Scientific Reports could benefit the economies with a variety of applications in agriculture, water management and forestry.

Over the past 15 years, California and neighboring regions have experienced heightened conditions and an increase in numbers with considerable impacts on human livelihoods, agriculture, and terrestrial ecosystems. This new research shows that in addition to a discernible contribution from natural forcings and human-induced global warming, the large-scale difference between Atlantic and Pacific ocean temperatures plays a fundamental role in causing droughts, and enhancing wildfire risks.

"Our results document that a combination of processes is at work. Through an ensemble modeling approach, we were able to show that without anthropogenic effects, the droughts in the southwestern United States would have been less severe," says co-author Axel Timmermann, Director of the newly founded IBS Center for Climate Physics, within the Institute for Basics Science (IBS), and Distinguished Professor at Pusan National University in South Korea. "By prescribing the effects of man-made climate change and observed global ocean temperatures, our model can reproduce the observed shifts in weather patterns and wildfire occurrences."



Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-atlanticpacific-ocean-temperature-difference-fuels.html#jCp
An international team of climate researchers from the US, South Korea and the UK has developed a new wildfire and drought prediction model for southwestern North America. Extending far beyond the current seasonal forecast, this study published in the journal Scientific Reports could benefit the economies with a variety of applications in agriculture, water management and forestry.
 

Over the past 15 years, California and neighboring regions have experienced heightened conditions and an increase in numbers with considerable impacts on human livelihoods, agriculture, and terrestrial ecosystems. This new research shows that in addition to a discernible contribution from natural forcings and human-induced global warming, the large-scale difference between Atlantic and Pacific ocean temperatures plays a fundamental role in causing droughts, and enhancing wildfire risks.

"Our results document that a combination of processes is at work. Through an ensemble modeling approach, we were able to show that without anthropogenic effects, the droughts in the southwestern United States would have been less severe," says co-author Axel Timmermann, Director of the newly founded IBS Center for Climate Physics, within the Institute for Basics Science (IBS), and Distinguished Professor at Pusan National University in South Korea. "By prescribing the effects of man-made climate change and observed global ocean temperatures, our model can reproduce the observed shifts in weather patterns and wildfire occurrences."



Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-atlanticpacific-ocean-temperature-difference-fuels.html#jCp