To put the discussion of “failed plans” into better perspective and maybe provide some help for those new to incident management or not familiar with how incident management works, I wrote this summary. Mod’s, I’ll need some grace on length here. SMEs, I needed to simplify the process to keep it short and avoid the ire of Mods and readers – so please accept some generalities. No politics are mentioned and no agency specific procedures are included. This is the generally accepted doctrine as currently taught. I use the Dixie as the example, but it happens hundreds of times each year.
Part #1 – Developing an Incident’s Objectives
The Dixie starts, those responsible for the land (owners/managers) respond, as others also assist. Agencies provide engines, crews, dozers, aircraft, etc., but despite efforts it goes beyond local capability due to the complexity of the incident, usually operationally, logistically, or span of control. As a result, an Incident Management Team (IMT) is requested. They are highly skilled in managing more complex fires. The person(s) responsible for managing a fire on that land (termed the Agency Administrator or AA) issues the Incident Commander (IC) of the IMT a Delegation of Authority/Letter of Direction (DoA) making them responsible to manage the fire. That DoA has specific conditions, constraints, restrictions, and direction (termed Limitations and Constraints). Those often come from land management plans, pre-plans, results of lawsuits, politics, stakeholders, laws and regulations. That’s just the way it is.
All incidents have PRIORITIES. Those are recognized, in order, unless you are up to your ^% in fire and all you can do is save lives and possibly property and let it burn around you (point protection is the term) #1 Priority is Life Safety, #2 is Incident Stabilization, and #3 is Property and Environmental Protection. Using the Limitations and Constraints and the Priorities, the AA and IC and sometimes IMT members mentioned in Part #2, develop the Incident Objectives for the incident. There are both management and operational objectives. As an example, one of the Dixie’s management objectives is, “Utilize the risk management process to identify and mitigate hazards to protect firefighters and the public. Emphasize strategies and tactics that have the highest probability of success and the least exposure to firefighters and the public.” That is an objective to honor the #1 priority of Life Safety. One of the Operational objectives is, “Keep the fire south of Lassen Volcanic National Park.” There are several of each, and will vary by incident. Everything the IMT and the assigned resources do on that incident are focused, in one way or another, on achieving those objectives under the limitations and constraints given, and as provided in the DoA. In military terms, achieving all the objectives means you won the war.