Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Who would'a thought?

Risk management is more than just looking at the organization.

It requires a little - or a lot of - curiosity and a strong look beyond the obvious.

Some examples.

Distant fire endangers san Francisco

As firefighters battle the Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park, the folks in San Francisco, roughly 200 miles to the west of the park, must be concerned with both their water supply and the electricity grid that serves the area.

The Rim fire has got the City's Emergency Management people concerned; they probably were aware of the risks associated with a wild fire in the park.

I would suggest however, that the business continuity folks at the several major banks with headquarters or major operations in the City never gave a thought to threats emanating from the national park.

I lived briefly in San Francisco - long enough to learn not to call it "Frisco" and that the cable cars are more than just a tourist attraction - but I never considered what might be a threat from far away Yosemite. That was OK; I was working as a reporter at the time and such things were not on my radar.

Different perspectives

I preach that practitioners must take into account the mentality of the organization.

Still in California, but not in the City, I took in the movie Tora, Tora, Tora. For those who missed it, Tora*3 is a pseudo-documentary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Good movie; enlightening movie.

But what made it particularly memorable was that a large portion of the audience cheered for the Japanese. I doubt these people were anti-American; they just were proud of their Japanese heritage. (The town, for what it's worth, had hosted a German POW camp and many in the town at the time had pro-German sympathies; the Japanese already had been herded into concentration camps by the U.S. government.)

Desert floods

Phoenix AZ and Los Vegas NV are desert towns. Flooding should never be a concern.

But flooding is a concern for both places.

I never gave flooding in either place a thought until I talked to a fellow with a data warehouse business in Phoenix. Searching for risks to the business I quickly discovered that flooding is a very real concern, both from heavy rain and from spring thaws in the mountains. (Phoenix has an almost unique threat: sand storms. A major chip manufacturer had a Star Trek-like air lock to keep sand outside the manufacturing facility.)

There is some interesting Arizona flood statistics at http://geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/hydrology/state_fd/azwater1.html.

Although I lived in Nevada (Ely), I never made it south to Las Vegas. When I was there as editor of the 5-afternoon newspaper, Ely's biggest threats were (a) loss of the town's reason to exist, and (b) isolation. Ely was on a valley floor at 6,000 foot elevation. Weather could close the roads and the airport. The loss of the major employer eventually happened, but by then Ely and I had parted company. For all that, Ely was a great little town in which to live.

Not my fault

When I lived in Norfolk VA and worked for a marine transportation company (container ships, bulk cargo, etc.) I created a plan for the headquarter's operation.

During my research I discovered that California was hardly the only place in the U.S. with fault lines; fault lines mean high probability of earthquakes. The New Madrid fault in the central United States is particularly dangerous. The fault is among the most active in the country, running from St. Louis MO to Memphis TN. Turns out, 39 of the 50 states have fault lines, and therefore the threat of an earthquake.

Norfolk was not on a fault line, but it was close enough to cause minor concern - a 3 on a scale of 10, and that mostly related to moving cargo inland by rail or truck.

USGS illustration

Epicenters of "significant" - felt by people - earthquakes in Virginia (up to 2009, does not show 2011 quake) Source: USGS National Atlas

Any practitioner who limits his or her threat list to the organization is doing a disservice to the organization (unless of course the practitioner is forbidden from doing what needs doing).

Most of the threats listed above fall under the "environmental" umbrella, but unlike the typical umbrella, they are more like a beach umbrella that covers a great deal more territory.

Practitioners need to look beyond the organization and beyond the organization's immediate area. Yosemite National Park is roughly 200 miles from the heart of San Francisco, but the massive Rim fire threatened both the City's water and electrical supplies.

While there is little a practitioner can do to prevent a forest fire hundreds of miles distant, the practitioner should be aware of the threats and arrange to avoid or mitigate the threats exactly as the practitioner would any local threat.

But first, the practitioner needs to identify the threat, and that demands a certain level of curiosity.


If I wrote it you may quote it.

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