National Wildfire Coordinating Group

RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)

The Risk Management Process: A Universal Tool

RT-130 Decorative banner. Group of photos depicting wildland firefighters performing various duties.

This module examines the Risk Management Process used by highly successful organizations in wildland fire and the Columbia River Bar Pilots.
Category: Operations
Core Component(s): Local Topics;
Incident Reviews and Lessons Learned;
Human Factors, Communication and Decision Making

Estimated Delivery Time: 45 minutes; Video Length: 14:31



Examine the risk management processes used by a highly-successful organization, the Columbia River Bar Pilots in Oregon. Compare these with the risk management tools used in wildland fire, specifically the five-step Risk Management Process in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461.

Facilitator Preparation

  • Review the video and module tools. 
  • Decide which questions will best fit the level and interests of the session audience. 
  • Consider whether additional background information about the Columbia River Bar Pilots will enhance the discussion and fit in the allotted time. Recommended additional videos can be found in the Resources Category below. These can be shown in class or assigned as pre-work.
  • Examine the agency or organizational makeup of the session participants, and review the relevant risk management policies of those organizations. 
    • Consider bringing copies of these to the session. 

Facilitating the Discussion

  • Introduce the module. Inform the participants:
    • This module focuses on the Risk Management Process and is designed around learning from organizations outside of the military and wildland fire communities. The Columbia River Bar Pilots have a long history of managing risk in an unforgiving environment where the margins are slim and the stakes are high. Hearing directly from the pilots provides valuable insights and comparisons for the wildland fire community.
  • Show the video (and optional background video, if desired). 
  • Consider whether one large group discussion or multiple smaller group discussions will best engage the participants. 
  • Facilitate the group discussion using the selected questions. Give the participants a chance to comment and reflect on each other’s answers. 

Discussion Questions

  • Review the Risk Management Process in the IRPG. Compare the steps followed by the Columbia River Bar Pilots to those you take on a fire. What is the most similar? What are the biggest differences?
  • How would you describe or define risk management? Does your agency have a standard definition? How do you think the the Columbia River Bar Pilots would answer this question?
  • How do the Columbia River Bar Pilots make risk-informed decisions? Would you be comfortable working where risk decisions are made that way? How does your organization make risk decisions? Are you always comfortable with how those decisions are made?  
  • What tools does your agency use to manage risk? What policies? 
    • Does everyone in the room know about these tools and policies? 
      ​[Facilitators note: Consider asking specifically about the IRPG, Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), Green-Amber-Red Form (GAR), Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book), or other agency-specific tools and policies if the audience doesn’t mention them.] 
    • Do you know the right tool and method to use if you need to refuse risk? 
  • What is an acceptable level of risk?
    • Is your description of acceptable risk different than what is typically given by your agency or organization?
    • Do you operate with partners or cooperators who have a different idea of acceptable risk? If so, how do you communicate these differences?
    • Should the level of acceptable risk to responders be based on the values being protecting? Should risk management in the wildland urban interface be different than in the wilderness?
  • Unlike most firefighting organizations, the Columbia River Bar Pilots are a non-hierarchical organization. Think about the positions that are two levels up and two levels down in your organization.
    • What risks do people in that position deal with? 
    • How do risk decisions at that level impact you?
    • Alternative facilitation option: If there are participants in the session who function at different levels during an incident, have someone from each level describe to the group what risk considerations affect them and how they make risk decisions at the time-critical, operational, or strategic level.
  • Refer to the Human Factor Barriers to Situation Awareness in the IRPG, as well as Step 5 of the Risk Management Process, Supervise and Evaluate. 
    • What human factors do the Columbia River Bar Pilots discuss in the video? 
    • What human factors create barriers to your risk management while on a typical incident?
  • Do you find value in studying how other groups operate? Can you think of other organizations that you are familiar with that could provide valuable lessons for your wildland fire operations?


Additional Video Information

This video is also available as a download.  (Size 1.7GB)
Download the .srt file for closed captioning (you may need to right click and Save As). For information on how to add closed captioning to a video, see this how to page.

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