By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– For a fire chief, San Bernardino County presents unusual challenges. The county is the nation’s largest by area and includes a population exceeding that of 15 states, but it also offers an enormous variety of challenging landscapes — from rugged mountains to vast deserts.
“It’s a rare fire department that finds itself using snowcats to clear highways at the same time it’s sending people to fight wildfires,” says County Fire Chief Daniel Munsey. “That’s not particularly unusual here.”
Munsey employs two primary strategies to meet the challenge of protecting lives and managing risk in such a vast county: 1) a focus on innovation, including the ambitious use of technology; and 2) a commitment to uniting community groups and individuals around the concepts of prevention and risk reduction.
“Conceptually, our objectives are relatively simple: Save lives. Mitigate property damage. Prevent environmental harm,” says Munsey. “But actually achieving this in an environment like San Bernardino County requires fresh thinking, a willingness to embrace technology, and active engagement with the community.”
Occasional examples of such fresh thinking, like using grazing goats to create firebreaks, are decidedly low tech. More common are partnerships with companies such as Microsoft, Google and Esri to determine how best to use technology — primarily big data and artificial intelligence — to further the Fire Department’s mission.
“We are one of the most technology-driven fire departments in the country,” says Munsey. He should know: he currently serves the International Association of Fire Chiefs as chairman of its Technology Council. “We’re using technology to create a safer county for residents and a safer work environment for our employees. Advances in areas like AI help us deploy resources — mostly manpower and equipment — as quickly and efficiently as possible. So you might say we’re also creating a safer environment for taxpayers.”
Another area getting a lot of attention from Fire Chief Munsey is Community Risk Reduction, or CRR. CRR seeks to identify, assess and prioritize local risks well in advance, followed by effective planning and execution to reduce both their occurrence and impact.
In the CRR model, County Fire not only responds to emergencies but also actively works to prevent, or at least mitigate, such incidents. CRR provides a more systematized and focused strategy for managing risk — which in San Bernardino County includes a data-driven approach to risk analysis and trend forecasting.
“We’re studying risk in every community,” Munsey says. “What’s the likelihood of each type of risk? What’s the potential severity? What are overall potential impacts? What steps can we take now to prevent or diminish them?”
Munsey emphasizes that CRR requires a “community-wide level of engagement” to be truly effective, and he touts the County’s Mutual Advisory Committee as a favorable example.
“Managing risk is most effective when it’s a shared, mutually beneficial effort,” he says. “Thankfully, we’ve begun building a common culture that increasingly understands and appreciates the value of a community-wide effort. We’re better together.”