I've been spending time in Colorado lately so have been very keen to follow the wildfire news. Like others, I was heartened to learn that the major fires were contained and the immediate danger had passed. In the nearly constant coverage, I learned that Colorado was not just in an 'extreme' drought but a 'severe extreme' drought. In fact, Colorado - and much of the West - has been experiencing relentless drought for several years running. It's so bad in Colorado that the USDA has declared a federal disaster in 62 of the state's 64 counties.
Soon after the Waldo Canyon fire reached a high level of containment, I heard a radio interview with Governor John Hickenlooper. He talked about the bravery and heart of the firefighters that put their lives on the line to fight these fires and then got down to discussing fire policy. While the investigation into the genesis of the Waldo Canyon fire is still under investigation, it's clear that the fire, in the form of wisps' of rising smoke, smoldered overnight before the flames engulfed the difficult to access canyon. Northern Colorado saw the High Park fire, thought to be caused by a lightning strike that sparked again, a smolder that, unchecked, exploded into an historic blaze.
The Governor then when on to say something that shocked me. So much so, in fact, that I had to go back to the transcript to make sure I heard correctly. It turns out that not only the federal government but also Colorado's own Boulder County has a "system of recognizing every time a lightning bolt strikes ground...they get a readout of exact latitude and longitude of where that lightning bolt struck. Then they can have someone go look at it or fly over it..." and presumably extinguish any potential fire danger. Perhaps this "system" played a part in the quick containment of the Flagstaff fire in Boulder's Flatiron Mountains.
I bring this to light as a lesson for all of us in both public and private enterprise. How many times have you sensed an impending problem but did not do everything in your power to stave off disaster, eventually dealing with ugly fallout? For example:
- You realized a product was not up to snuff but allowed its release anyway, to a less than enthusiastic response.
- An employee was a ticking time bomb but it was easier to look the other way than to take action and you eventually had to clean up the mess they left behind.
- You thought your client was too unreasonable to understand the 'reality' of a project. Yet another firm gladly delivered what you would or could not and earned their account.
- An unrealistic loan package was presented to you and you signed on the dotted line, even though you knew there was a good possibility of your being unable to satisfy the note.
- You were three-quarters of the way into developing a new internal technology platform when mobile emerged as a contender. Instead of revamping, you charged ahead and now your sales force is struggling (and grumbling about it) with nearly obsolete tools.
Any of these scenarios could be your personal lightning strike. Will you allow them to burst into flames or create your own "system" to address issues before they become unmanageable.
Just a hunch, but I bet Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado legislature wishes they could go back in time and make further provisions for early detection of the most disastrous wildfires Colorado has ever seen.