National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2015 WOR Day 6: Margin – A Trigger for Sensemaking

Ribbon symbol for WOR next to Wildland Fire Lessons Learned logo.Week of Remembrance June 30-July 6, 2015

“We are in a universe from which we cannot exclude risk, uncertainty, and disorder.  We have to live and deal with disorder.” – Morin, 2008

Our environment is complex and dynamic, realistically this means there are a lot of conditions to pay attention to and those conditions are constantly changing.  Conditions like RH, crew dynamics, blood sugar, where you are, where the fire is, budgets…you get the idea.  The tricky part is that risk changes as conditions change, but all those conditions change at different rates and mean different things depending on the context.  An RH that moves from 45-40 is different than one that moves from 20-15.  A fire that moves a half-mile in an hour, but is 10 miles from your position is different from one that does the same and is a half-mile from you.  Traditionally this is the role of trigger points.  Set a trigger point and when the indicator reaches the preset value, reassess or take some preset action.  Trigger points are intended to move us out of “autopilot” and into a more deliberate way of thinking.

What about the stuff that can’t be predicted or measured? In our complex environment, it is often the interaction of multiple, seeming unrelated, conditions that align and affect risk.  This is the gap that margin was developed to fill.

Line art of a man in a hard hat holding a radio while looking at an object above and sweating. Butterflies float on his stomach.
“It gives language to that uneasy feeling when the environment is changing, but you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what is changing.”
  • Take a moment to share a short story (remember this is 6 Minutes for Safety, not 60 Minutes for Safety) about a time when lots of seemingly unrelated things were aligning to increase risk.
    1. Could you assign trigger points to all these conditions, and even if you could would it be helpful to set so many?
    2. How does it change if we use a change in margin as a trigger point for reassessment and deliberate thinking? 

We are not suggesting that we do away with traditional trigger points; rather we suggest it is important to think of, and talk about, the environment as a whole.   By giving “language to that uneasy feeling,” margin provides a way of thinking and talking about all the thousands of conditions that exist and interact in our environment without having to name each one.  In this way, a change in margin can itself be a trigger point for reassessment and deliberate sensemaking.


The “Take 5@2” safety messages are a cooperative project of 6 Minutes for Safety, the Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR), NIFC External Affairs, the NWCG Leadership Committee, the NWCG Risk Management Committee, and the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.


Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jun 2023

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