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Editor's Note: Awareness

​According to ecological re­searchers, up to 75 percent of global tropical savannas are burned annually. The savannas of northern Australia make up 12 percent of such landscapes in the world. This destruction can threaten global environmental health. As reported in a 2015 paper "Fire in Australian Savannas," published in the journal Global Change Biology, fire is "arguably the greatest natural and anthropogenic environmental disturbance," to these regions.

Until recently, scientists thought they knew the main risks of fire in the Australian savanna—lightning and people. However, new research suggests another risk factor: birds.

In 2011, researchers started observing the behavior of local birds, called firehawks by the indigenous population. The black kite, the whistling kite, and the brown falcon were all alleged to carry smoldering sticks from burning savanna to a new, unaffected area, thus spreading the fire. The birds, scientists said, do this individually and in groups.

The researchers explained the purpose of the behavior in their article "Intentional Fire-Spreading by 'Firehawk' Raptors in Northern Australia," in the Journal of Ethno­biology in December 2017. The birds flush small rodents and reptiles out of their hiding places and toward a group of waiting raptors. Once the birds have feasted, they repeat the behavior, bringing burning sticks to another pristine part of the savanna.

Fire-spreading birds have been accepted as a threat by those living in the area for tens of thousands of years, but scientists long discounted the phenomenon as folklore. "Though Aboriginal rangers and others who deal with bushfires take into account the risks posed by raptors that cause controlled burns to jump across firebreaks, official skepticism about the reality of avian fire-spreading hampers effective planning for landscape management and restoration," wrote the researchers.

The raptor behavior revealed a significant risk factor for bushfires that was previously unaccepted, if not totally unknown. In this issue of Security Management, you'll find stories of security professionals doing the same type of discovery—gleaning threat information from a variety of sources both traditional and innovative.

In our cover story, Brad Spicer of SafePlans explores how security professionals, including unarmed security officers, can use awareness techniques to spot suspicious behavior before violence breaks out. A comprehensive risk management posture for the maritime industry is the topic for authors Marie-Helen Maras and Lauren R. Shapiro.

Doug Powell, CPP, PSP, security project manager for BC Hydro, sat down with Security Management to talk about best practices around risk management. If something goes wrong with security, he says, "the error lies in either the company's risk profile or its implementation of mitigation procedures."

Powell argues that outliers, be they black swans or fire-wielding raptors, are no excuse for a poor risk posture.