Application of the Intelligence Cycle to Prevent Impacts of Disastrous Wildland Fires

Brian Young

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The threat of wildland fires is an issue of national security, as it relates to disaster management and the protection of U.S. citizens. Numerous wildfires, burned homes, environmental consequences, and the evacuation of thousands are problems that occur nearly every fire season. Tactical considerations are the primary focus of how the fire service deals with the wildland fire problem. However, having both a tactical and strategic approach allows fire service decision makers to make informed decisions that can minimize the impacts of wildland fires before, during, and after the fires. Given the limitations of current tactical approaches, other solutions that will complement them are worthy of consideration. Specifically, the application of the intelligence cycle has merit in combating wildland fires.

Providing a general overview of the intelligence cycle is not a simple task. Debates ensue about how to best describe it and its origination. Similarities in the core components, such as direction, collection, and processing of early versions of the intelligence cycle are evident in later iterations adopted by numerous intelligence agencies. Although fire services have not adopted a formalized intelligence cycle approach, advances in information sharing have been made.

This literature in the thesis demonstrated a gap in research and thinking about the application of the intelligence cycle to wildland firefighting. Little or no discussion appears in the firefighting literature about the use of the intelligence cycle or other intelligence principles. Despite the lack of defined research on a wildland fire intelligence cycle, some value is apparent in its use, which indicates the need to evaluate the usefulness of use further for the wildland fire problem. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) intelligence cycle model is evaluated for wildland fire application due to the simplicity of the steps.

Two intelligence dissemination platforms are examined, the wildfire centric geographic area coordinating centers (GACCs) and the all-risk or all-hazard focused national network of fusion centers. It appears that linking the GACCs and the national network of fusion centers may be critical in supporting wildland firefighting activities from the fire prevention level all the way down to the tactical level.

The research examines the role of intelligence and intelligence collection methods in the current wildland fire environment. The fire service does not formally characterize the intelligence collection methodologies as precursors to actionable intelligence. The robust nature of technology and its application to the wildland fire problem further supports the role of intelligence collection. The concepts of fire service intelligence, the intelligence collection types, and the technology component of intelligence collection as they relate to the CIA intelligence cycle are discussed.

Although the fire service does not use a formalized intelligence cycle, some current practices are consistent with the existing intelligence cycle models. When looking at the components parts and processes currently in use, information indicates a value in the application of the intelligence cycle for fire service decision makers. This thesis discusses the fire service’s informal adoption of the five constituent components of the CIA intelligence cycle model, including the strengths and the gaps or problems of each in the way they currently are applied in the fire services.

Planning for large-scale wildland fires and their prevention is an enduring focus that depends on effective intelligence production. The collection and processing of information, such as weather indices and geographic areas at risk, support the planning portion of the cycle. Current analysis actions create finished fire intelligence that can be further enhanced in the future as technology evolves. Expanding dissemination can also support the adoption of the intelligence cycle

Analysis indicates various components or elements of the intelligence cycle were at play in the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, even though a conscious effort may not have been made to use any formalized intelligence cycle model. Deconstructing the Waldo Canyon fire and examining the various parts of the intelligence cycle’s relevance to the event provides a framework for application in the wildland fire environment to minimize wildfire impacts on communities. The use of the intelligence cycle to prevent and manage fires may evolve to help fire service and related agencies respond to external demands and societal implications in the wildland fire environment. An opportunity exists to formalize a well-defined wildland fire centric model.

This thesis draws conclusions about the intelligence cycle and its specific application to wildland fire prevention and management. Shortcomings and implementation issues are highlighted, and evidence from other fields that effectively utilize the intelligence cycle and scholarly research findings are used to generate related solutions that may lead to best practices in fire services. This paper posits that the intelligence cycle will be a practical approach to wildland fire prevention, response, and management.

Driven by the desire to minimize the impacts of disastrous wildland fires, the current author provides recommendations for the future. To be implemented successfully, several recommendations will need significant high-level policy support. The support may be easier to garner as potential benefits are quantified as lives saved, property loss reduced, and environmental impacts minimized. Using a well-defined intelligence process focused on saving lives, protecting property, and reducing environmental impacts in a fiscally responsible manner is a prudent wildland fire policy. This thesis argues that the intelligence cycle is a valuable framework for thinking and re-evaluating how information about wildland fire threats is collected, analyzed, and disseminated. Its adoption will ultimately help the fire service better communicate with the communities it services, and the resulting enhanced communication will help the fire service be more successful in preventing wildland fires and mitigating the effects of those that do occur.

 

 

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