USA — U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force Academy’s Center of Innovation is scheduled to host a conference Feb. 13-14 to determine better methods to attack wildfires.
Wildfires are a reality along the Front Range, but U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet 1st Class Eric Bonick and Intel Corporation futurist Brian David Johnson are determined to help Colorado Springs chart a difference course.
The event will bring together a host of experts, including workers from the Red Cross, Intel Corp. and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as local firefighters and government officials to use Johnson’s brand of “future-casting,” proven successful at Intel for the past decade, to move toward a better future – even when fires break out. World-renowned wildfire expert Dr. Stephen Pyne will be participating via teleconference from Australia. NASA’s chief technician will also be involved in the workshop.
“The hope is that this will start a dialogue between FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security and the local community,” said Lt. Col. Greg Bennett, deputy director of the Center of Innovation at the Academy, which is funded by Department of Homeland Security. “We want to explore ways to approach this differently – how to do a better job.” It’s a different way of approaching problems, he said.
“How do we do a better job of detection? How do we get there faster before it spreads? How do we streamline the process of people who lost their homes can recover more quickly?” he asked. “Those are the types of things we will tackle during the workshop.”
The workshop will be the result of Cadet Bonick’s summer research program at Intel. He worked with Johnson to tailor his “future-casting” for other purposes: in this case, determining the future wildfire threat.
“But it can be used in the military as well,” said Cadet Bonick, a military studies major at the Academy. “The military needs to be able to project out what the threats will be 10 years from now, and how to work to solve them before they become a reality.”
At Intel, Johnson brings together a wide variety of disciplines – social sciences, engineers, historians, scientists – to work to determine possible future outcomes from technology. Then he creates a path to get to the best possible future by using what he calls “back-casting,” a process of figuring out the steps needed to reach future goals.
The Academy seminar will work in much the same way. People who have different perspectives about wildfire response – from the first responders to the insurance companies – will provide their opinions about what the future possibilities could be, both catastrophic and fortuitous.
“We pick 10 years, because that’s just beyond the realm of plausibility,” Johnson said. “Everyone inputs their data, trends, the ways things happened and they seem to be headed. Then we synthesize all the data to walk through what wildfires might look like ten years from now, for the people involved.”
After that, the group will be involved in what Johnson calls “back-casting.” Once they figure out the best possible future, they work backward to create to get to that particular future. “Wildfires are inevitable,” he said. “So that’s a constant. But people can affect the future; they can change it. We are going to find a path so wildfires aren’t so catastrophic; maybe they’re caught earlier, maybe we help people recover more quickly.”
The first workshop will be an exchange of ideas, he said.
“And it could be messy,” Johnson said. “People will disagree. And that’s a good thing. But future casting is about discussing what could go terribly wrong, or what could go wonderfully right. Then determining how to shape the path to get you to the place you want to be – to the future we modeled.”
Once the workshop is over, Johnson’s commitment has just started. He’ll take all the templates created – using a version of what he uses at Intel – and create a document for a second conversation in Colorado Springs. This time, that conversation will be with the larger public, to receive advice and input before the final document.
“We can control the future,” Johnson says, “We just need to work to gain insight from disparate players – the military – first responders – and then begin an ongoing conversation.”