As our incidents trend towards greater complexity, there is a call for incident management teams to be more strategic in their approach across all functions. When strategy comes up, we in the wildfire world have a saying that has been repeated thousands of times: "Fly at 30,000 feet." This always seemed a little off to me because the expected action is that you look down from 30,000 feet so you can see the entire incident and thus you're able to make better decisions. Many times in my career while working towards the Lead PIO position on an IMT, I was told to fly that high but I was never told what I should be looking for from that height. I finally realized that 30,000 feet is a refuge we (including me more than a few times) seek when we know what needs to be done but can't describe it very well. The conversation always plays out this way: the experienced hand is working with a novice, hits a communications roadblock, and the only out is to implore the less experienced person to fly high. Meanwhile, the recipient of this wisdom is looking a little perplexed and nods with an understanding that is not wholly there.
After going through our training process and being beat up on many incidents, I finally figured out that the key to flying at 30,000 feet is to not only look down, but to also look out in both time and space. Where are we headed and when will we get there? Where time and space intersect, strategic thinking is demanded.
In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.
Occasional thoughts on incident response, crisis communications, wildland fire, and other topics.
Docendo disco, scribendo cogito.
Copyright © Jim Whittington, 2019.