History repeats itself

by Tom Harbour

We’ve been inundated with the news and visual images of Southern California fires, often described by the media as “unprecedented” and “never before seen” events. It would seem to many that, “this is new.”

Headlines read, “484 homes were destroyed and 16,900 acres (68 km2) were burned in an early November fire fueled by strong Santa Ana winds.” But this headline is from the Bel Air Fire which began on November 5, 1961. So as we know, these types of events have actually been happening for years.

Legendary figures like retired southern California CALFire Chief John Hawkins have seen and spoken about so many of these Southern California wind events, it begs the question, “why do folks think this type of event is new?” We should also ask, where does all the accumulated wisdom go? In my time, some firefighters used to ask “WWJHD?” or “What would John Hawkins do?” The idea being that Chief Hawkin’s accumulated wisdom really could make a difference in firefighting efforts.

So, where do the lessons learned go to be reviewed and renewed? Where does the wisdom go? Where does the data go? What information is retrieved from that data?

We see new technology, but that technology is only a means to an end. How will the accumulation of newly accumulated data aid us the next time?

Is there a sense that better data leads to better decisions? Is there an ability to catalog and analyze decisions in the context of good, better, best? How does demand for data and information drive decision-making?

Who learns lessons? First responders? Homeowners? Society in general?

Hurricanes in Florida, tornadoes in the midwest, fires in SoCal. How long have these things been happening? There’s about 500 years of hurricane history in Florida and a 1998 paper by scientists concluded there is evidence of large fires in SoCal for at least 500 years. These are not “new” events.

If we know these events are coming, how do we prepare? What do we do with the data we collect? What do we do with the lessons we learned? Isn’t there a more effective way to “pay it forward”?

We think there is.