The Yarnell Hill Arizona wildfire killed 19 skilled, cautious firefighters when wind and flames reversed course almost 180 degrees and overran their Granite Mountain Hotshots team. While the military teaches there are no certainties in battle, the same holds for wildland fires that can create their own weather and chase firefighters.
As investigators determine what went wrong, these 19 brave souls leave behind a code intended to reduce the risk of disaster. We at our desks do not remotely face their threats but their “Standard Fire Orders” and “Situations that Shout Watch Out” http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/safety/10_18/10_18.html , if we look at them metaphorically, also apply to fighting a business crisis.
Thinking as a crisis manager let me share most of this U.S. Forest Service code and add my interpretation in italics. Give thanks for firefighters and read on.
What to do:
1. Know what your fire is doing – monitor your crisis
2. Keep informed on weather conditions – monitor how it’s being perceived
3. Base all actions on current and expected fire behavior – adapt to uncertainty
4. Identify escape routes and make them known – follow your crisis plan
5. Post lookouts – monitor 24/7
6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively – be fast not stupid
7. Maintain prompt communications – keep all stakeholders in the loop
8. Give clear instructions
9. Maintain control of your forces at all times
10. Fight fire aggressively having provided for safety first – protect potential victims as well as your business
What not to do:
1. Fight an un-scouted fire – acting before understanding your problem
2. Be uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards – operating as though nothing will ever go wrong
3. Have unclear instructions and assignments – no team, no plan, no practice
4. No communication link with crewmembers, supervisors
5. Attempting a frontal assault on a fire – acting impulsively, unthinkingly, even angrily
6. Have unburned fuel between you and the fire – letting problems smolder
7. Cannot see the main fire – not monitoring your status 24/7
8. Wind increasing and changing direction – not anticipating uncertainty and adapting to it
9. Weather is getting hotter and drier – sticking your head in the sand
10. Taking a nap near the fire line – fiddling while your company “burns”
I have written before how business can learn from the military. Let’s add wildland firefighters to the faculty. Our livelihoods, if not our lives, might depend upon following their lead.