Technology Can Promote Cooperation: Attracting and Engaging Non-Traditional Players (Part IV)
Everyone is likely familiar with the phrase “usual suspects.” These are the ones the TV cops round up following a heinous crime because the detectives are familiar with their escapades. But the term also applies to the “off the top of my head” response in listing people and organizations when searching for likely partners for special projects. The key to gaining cooperation to address wildfire issues – in this case, before smoke is in the air – is to identify the specific issues that create the problem and not merely the issues that appear as the symptoms.
The engagement of residents and non-traditional stakeholders in solving a “fire problem” could include insurance professionals, land use planners, builders and developers, in addition to the “usual suspects” in the fire service and forestry agencies. In fact, I suggest that the essence of the “problem” of home loss due to wildfires is not a fire problem at all. It’s essentially a land use planning problem. It’s only a fire problem when there’s a fire – sort of like realizing a home is in a flood plain when only the roof is above water. Can’t we plan better with the idea for living compatibility with nature, whether the issue is fire, flood, or some other threat?
Technology can be an effective method to educate and engage both the usual suspects and those we “should have thought of.” For example, geographic information systems (GIS) can be extremely effective for demonstrating the complexities of certain issues of wildfires and the presence of homes among the trees. Besides the locations of homes in hazardous areas, GIS maps can assist lay people in grasping the relationships among slope of the surrounding terrain; number and quality of roads; the distances involved between emergency services and homes; and so on.
One of the more profound moments I’ve witnessed in years of using GIS for teaching spatial relationships has been the “ah-ha” realization why certain solutions may not be feasible. For example, developing a plot of land for residential use depends on factors such as soil (type and stability), the proximity to environmentally sensitive areas (water supplies and watersheds), the presence or proximity of cultural sites or endangered habitats; and many others. When a solution is offered, spatial analysis can help the professionals and lay people discard one solution and work toward a mutually agreeable one.
The use of streaming video, online education courses, and communications (social networking) are other methods to deliver information and generate feedback and ideas. Organizations that shy away from (or refuse to consider at all) social networking will continue to rely on tradition to solve the problems of the present and the future with solutions of the past. What’s that called when we do the same thing over and over and yet expect different results?
Coming up next blog: The right combination.