I was recently catching up on an old 60 Minutes episode on brush fires in the Kern County District of California. It caught my attention for a couple reasons. One, we recently had been engaged by Kern County School District to help understand their policing needs, and two, because I have long been fascinated at the struggles to put out brush fires once they get going.

Putting Out the Fire

Being uneducated in firefighting, it is not surprising that my natural thought here was bring more water to the source and bingo, there you have it, fire put out. Much to my surprise, it’s not so simple. I found out there was a solution grounded in information and taking precaution that would prevent homes from burning that had absolutely nothing to do with water.

So let me share how the segment unfolded (as an aside 60 Minutes does a great job of keeping you emotionally engaged with their stories). I found it fascinating that despite full knowledge of the risks associated with building a home in the path of known deadly brush fires, there was a booming housing industry. In my mind it was simple: know your risks and build elsewhere.

Evaluating the Risks

But as the residents shared, they are drawn to this area because of its peaceful nature. This destination provides a quieter way of life, out of the daily rush to get things done and get back to our hand-held device culture. This is what draws homeowners to the region. What transpired over the course of time was a realization that by assessing the history of fires, how fires spread, and the way homes were built that data and information could lead to insight in how to take preventative action to nearly eliminate the risk.

The key piece of information, according to the episode, was the distance from the home to the boundaries or brush lines. When the appropriate distance is established, the embers from the fire fall harmlessly into the gaps rather than engulfing home after home as the tree line acts as a natural bridge from one property to another.

The solution was an easy fix in retrospect, but getting to that answer involved (1) assessing the situation; (2) knowing what you don’t know; (3) analyzing the information for critical insights on how best to mitigate the risk; and (4) acting on this information.

Many clients often ask why we have to start with an assessment, why can’t you simply fix the problem. The short answer is yes, we can implement solutions and hope that they solve the problem but we would be doing our client or community a disservice. What if our solution fails to solve the problem because we don’t have all the information?

Start with What You Don’t Know

To determine what you may not know, the crucial first step is to assess the situation. You would never take your car to the repair shop and just ask the mechanic to “fix it.” He or she would likely ask you questions, do an assessment and determine a prognosis. We approach our business the same way. After our experts have done a thorough assessment, we help deliver information and critical insights and work with you to construct a plan that is preventative in orientation, meets your immediate and long-term needs, and is cost-effective.

Prevention is grounded in knowledge and not necessarily bringing a band aid (more water) to the source.