Anchor and Flank


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Sunday, September 18, 2016

"Anchor and Flank" is at the core of the counterfear process (check out the Focus Area page "Anchor and Flank" for more).  It comes from fire.  In fact, it's a core principle of wildland firefighting, too.

Wildland fire is fire that's in the wildland... and not in a structure.  Usually.  Wildland firefighters head toward tiny - or gigantic - fires in wild areas, and structural firefighters run into burning buildings (although to be fair, a whole lot of a structure fire station's calls are also medical).  In wildland urban interface areas where there are structures in trees and brush, you need both types of firefighting.  Those fires often make the news.

Here's the thing:  you don't just run up to a big wildfire and start randomly spraying water at it, or cutting fireline.  That's risky.  "Risky" can be a nice way of saying "stupid."

What you do is you find a safe area that is not currently on fire and is not likely to be on fire soon... which is to say that it doesn't have fuel on or in it.  I don't mean gasoline-fuel.  I mean like anything that will burn... grass, shrubs, trees, debris, outbuildings, cars, and so on (firefighters see the world in terms of things that have burned, and things that haven't burned yet).

The clear/safe area you are looking for might be a road, a stretch of dirt, a recently-mowed area, a fire road, or something that has already burned ("the black") but is not currently burning or even smouldering.  You start there.  That there is your anchor point.

Now, this only works if this anchor point spot you have identified doesn't have head fire coming at you.  You generally want to find one of these anchor points on the side or the back of the wildfire.  To do that you need to know a bit about fire behaviour and weather and terrain and so on.  You need some situational awareness.

Once you've found your anchor point, you double-check it and make sure it's safe - and then you work outward from there.  You "flank" it.  You work from the back and up the sides of the fire, and put in fireline or strengthen what you started with (like further clearing an old fire road or a mowed area).  Fireline is created by removing the fuel to keep the fire from spreading.  Again, fuel like grass and roots and trees and shrubs.

Assuming all goes well, eventually you and your folks can flank the fire, slow the fire activity, and safely stop or put out the head fire that's causing the thing to keep spreading so fast.  That's the best-case scenario.  That's why "anchor and flank" is called a "principle," because the actual application of it gets a bit more complicated.  As the world tends to do.

The point here is that you don't just go running willy-nilly toward the head fire and think that attacking it would be a) safe, and b) effective.  You find a safe spot.  You get grounded.  You move out from there - with a team, and with a strategy.

Anchor and flank.

In Real Life

I never realized when I was learning wildland firefighting how applicable it would be to real life.  But the "anchor and flank" principle is perfect.  It's essentially the basis for the whole counterfear approach.  Which I'm going to give away, right here.  Well okay, it's the super-simple version.  But I've got stuff to do, so here's the quick-and-dirty:

  • You get a team (get connected; get support).
  • You get a plan (vision).
  • You get grounded (this could take minutes or days or weeks or years, but there are a huge ton of ways to do it).  This is your anchor.  Make sure you have the tools, resources, and equipment you will need.
  • You move out from there (flank).  With your team; with support.
  • You maintain situational awareness.
  • You re-assess, and tweak the plan as necessary.
  • You reach your vision, and/or you find that you've made progress toward it.
  • You have forward progress.  It's gooooood.

It's also iterative.  Every action that you take changes the situation from where you started, and the situation evolves as well.  Let's be honest:  that damn fire could blow up at any minute.  That's why you've got your anchor point.  If you start from a safe space and know how to get back there (and fast), you can regroup.

You don't just parachute into the middle of a burning forest and think you'll do any good.  Or survive.  You take action in cooperation with or with the support of other people.  My hotshot superintendent used to say, "Find you a spot!"  Find you a safe spot.  Get anchored there.  Get your tools.  Gear up.

Work out from there.

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This post is an expansion of the "Anchor and Flank" focus area explanation, which is also about how to "Anchor and Flank" - with a bit about grounding, too.  The Focus Areas are the base / core / foundation of the Counterfear tools and the idea itself.
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2016 posts anchor & flank assemble a toolbox assess situation & resources assess, accept, & address risk be intentional & purposeful be the change / lead build resilience connect core resources, ideas, & tools counterfear tools (in blog) disasters & emergencies disruption don't panic find a way forward foster community manage incidents & events opposition / resistance partner & collaborate plan security / homeland security / national security take action think critically & solve problems

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