High-reliability organizing and the language of wildland fire managers

Posted: Jan. 19, 2017

How wildland fire managers talk about risky situations is vital to safety. A better understanding of the language of high-reliability organizing mindfulness is crucial in developing this communication skill.

wildland firefighters talking
High-reliability organizations (HROs) are organizations that have fewer than normal accidents. Source: high-reliability.org

A recent study analyzed the language wildland fire managers used in order to see if their word choices, phrasing or jargon showed they were practicing one of the five principles of high-reliability organizing as outlined by Weick and Sutcliffe in their book, “Managing the Unexpected.” These principles include:

Researchers learned it was difficult to neatly place individual word choices into one of the five HRO categories but there was no doubt that the primary way firefighters make sense of a wildland fire is through talking about it. As Weick says, “we talk sense into being,” so the language firefighters use has to be a big part of how they size-up and make sense of a wildland fire. How to actually study this HRO language as it is being used is the challenge.

Research takeaways

Source: Thomas, D. et al (2015). Voices from the field: Wildland fire managers and high-reliability organizing mindfulness. Society and Natural Resources: Vol 28 (8) (2015. doi:10.1080/08941920.2015.1014590).

Learn more about this research

This research article, “Voices from the field: wildland fire managers and high-reliability organizing mindfulness,” is available online.

You can learn more about high-reliability organizations through the materials in our library. For research assistance, please email netclrc@fema.dhs.gov.

This summary is for informational purposes only. More +
As such, the content does not reflect any official positions, policies, or guidelines on behalf of the sender, the U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, DHS, nor any other federal agencies, departments or contracting entities. Similarly, this summary does not represent in any manner an official endorsement or relationship to any private or public companies, organizations/associations, or any authors or individuals cited or websites associated within the article.

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