Thursday, March 14, 2013


Of thermostats and risk management

Driving back from a shopping trip the other day I noticed the Check Engine idiot light illuminated.
Since the Elantra seemed to be working OK, I continued on my way – some 15 miles in stop-n-go rush hour traffic.

On the way, I checked the tachometer – 1000 rpm and 30 mph in top gear = normal.

The engine temperature gauge stayed almost at the bottom, cold, line. The indicator is supposed to be just under half way up the gauge.

Hyundai Thermostat
Having been driving longer than many readers are old, I knew that the problem probably was the thermostat. (On the bright side, the thermostat is part of the engine/drive train and that’s warranted for 100,000 miles; the flivver, less than 5 years old, has less than 20,000 so the repair – whatever it turned out to be – would be on Hyundai.)
Given that I supposed – based on years of experience – the problem was with the thermostat, I continued to the house and the next day to the Hyundai dealer’s service center.

Of course I was correct; the thermostat was replaced, the Check Engine light was extinguished, and the engine temperature gauge behaved as expected.

So what is the “risk management” perspective?

Actually, there are several. Alphabetically:
  • Diagnosis
  • Lost time
  • Warranty
DIAGNOSIS Because I was an experienced driver who had experienced many “strange” things over the years, and because I have some general knowledge of thermostats – they all do basically the same thing – and because the dashboard temperature gauge failed to record the normal temperature, I felt I could safely point the finger at the thermostat.

On top of that, when I got into the car the next morning to take it to the shop, I used the heat, and that worked fine.

On the other hand, I could have been very wrong and the engine could have over heated and been ruined. Still, given the vehicle’s age and mileage, and that fact that I never saw any indications that the radiator leaked, over heating wasn’t likely.

The same “know your environment” applies to risk management.

I know that if the sky turns green, a tornado is very likely about to come into sight.

Almost everyone knows “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.”

If something in the work environment seems unusual – a smell, a sound, a sight (e.g., flickering lights), an unidentified and unescorted visitor – there likely is an associated risk. Being “risk aware” is the first line of defense against major operational interruptions. It’s easier to put out a trash can fire than a fire than engulfs a structure.

Well trained, alert people are a practitioner’s best allies and are worth their weight in gold. Personnel (and personal) safety and awareness training should be part of every risk management program.

LOST TIME It took nearly two and a half hours – round trip – to get the flivver fixed. Fortunately I had things I could do while cooling my heels. The dealer has Wife for those that are chained to their computers. I had a Jonathon Kellerman novel (Bones) and fresh, not-too-bad coffee, but even then the time did not pass quickly. If I had a pressing deadline or had I been slated to meet someone someplace, the time spent at the dealer’s would have been more than a little frustrating.

Under my risk management hat, I’m thinking about how long it would take me to get back to some semblance of operation – not “business as usual,” but just “basic functions” whatever that means for a particular organization. If I had equipment failure, anything from a computer malfunction – be it a server, a desktop unit, laptop, or connectivity failure – or an electrical disconnect that prevents everyone working independently of an external generator from doing their job, I’d be more than a little frustrated. How much profit am I losing until an electrician finds and resolves the problem? How much is it costing my organization is my IT staff lacks repair manuals, tools, and spares. Does anyone on staff have experience fixing computers or will this be a time-consuming learning experience?

More and more organizations are, properly, training people in basic and advanced first aid and use of Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs). A few also invite the local fire brigade in to teach people how to use fire extinguishers. How many, though, actually make sure personnel know where the AEDs and fire extinguishers are located. Few, however, make certain the IT folks have repair skills and experience? How many have someone on staff who knows more about electricity that flipping a switch? How long will it take to get a qualified person on site – assuming there is a contract in place for expedited response.

Things to check as the plan develops and during, exercises. What was may not be now.

By the way, most electronic gear have known, albeit not always advertised, Mean Time Between (or Before) Failure (MTBF) and Mean Time To Repair (MTTR) information. MTTR “assumes” a trained repair person.

WARRANTY My vehicle is under warranty – 5 years/50k miles for everything and 10 years, 100k miles for the “drive train” (engine and transmission). The “catch” is that I need to maintain the car with regular maintenance, mostly oil and filter changes.

As with most insurance policies – and this is, essentially, an insurance policy – require that the insured does something to keep the insurance in force, beyond just paying the premium.

Knowing what is expected is in the “fine print,” the agate type. (Agate to a printer is six and a half point type; classified section size type.)

Practitioners need to either read, themselves, the fine print and relay the information to management or assure that someone read the policies and summarize for management.

In order to collect on business interruption insurance, the insured has to provide an abundance of paperwork proving that over the last time period (specified in the policy) that the organization made a profit of “n” local currency or developed “n” new products or whatever the organization does to justify its existence.

The organization may be required to prove that it did everything possible to avoid or at least mitigate the threat covered by insurance. I mitigate engine damage by having the oil and oil filter changed at roughly 3.5k miles; I installed a permanent air filter that needs cleaning once every 50k miles. Other than that, I follow “the book’s” recommended maintenance – and I keep the receipts to prove it.

BOTTOM LINE A practitioner who is willing to “think outside the box,” or perhaps come up with “off the wall” ideas can see risk management in almost everything. This ability pays off when talking to non-practitioners, people who have a “different” vocabulary and different interests. Talking about thermostats to someone who works with heating or cooling devices is akin to talking about lures to rod-n-reel fishermen or horsepower and gear ratios to truckers.

To an experienced and open-minded practitioner, nothing is outside the box, not even a malfunctioning thermostat replaced under warranty.

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