Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Risk Assessments

In order to prepare for danger one must get a basic idea about what kind of threats that we are facing. If one can get an idea about potential risks we can get the skills, knowledge, training, equipment and plans that can help us to overcome, prevent and reduce the effects from these risks. Governments, corporations, military organizations and the Intelligence community spends an enormous amount of money every year in order to collect Intelligence, understand threats and prevent them from manifesting into reality or catastrophes.

Risks are also a matter of perception. Institutions and the media forms the acceptance of what risks that is considered acceptable and what risks that is not. Different people perceive risks differently. Ideologies also play a critical role, one example is Man-Made Global Warming and Peak Oil, these two issues are seen as serious risks by some and ignored by others. The process of Globalization has resulted in a situation when a crisis can spread fast though out the world, like the current financial crisis. Many other threats are not bound to the boundaries of states like terrorism, organized crime, trafficking, illegal drug trade and pandemics.

So what is a Risk? The probability is one factor, the other factor is the consequences that a risk may have. Fatalities, physical harm or loss of property are common consequences that a threat can have.

Where do you get Started?
Try to find a Risk Assessment made by a government agency from a local or regional level. This is important 1: For inspiration, 2: So that you know what kinds of scenarios your local agencies are prepared for. Risk Assessments are not always made public because they can give antagonistic people an idea of where a strike would hurt the most. Sometimes there exists both a public and confidential version, try with different kind of agencies and just ask if they have a public version.

Step 1: Identify Risks - What can happen?
Examples of possible events
• Civil Wars (The most common form of human conflict)
• Genocide or Ethnic cleansing (Nazi Germany, Rwanda and the Balkans are some examples)

Weapons of Mass Destruction (CBRN)
• Attacks with Chemical weapons
• Attacks with Biological weapons
• Attacks with Nuclear weapons or an attack with conventional explosives in combination with radioactive materials attached, known as a “dirty bomb”.
• Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) from a high altitude nuclear explosion

• Suicide bombings
• Bomb Attacks
• Improvised Explosive Devises (IED:s)
• Arson (the most common form of terrorist attack)

• Sabotage
• Crime
• Assault
• Murder
• Kidnapping (common danger in high risk countries like Colombia or Iraq)
• Theft or Robbery
• Riots

Famine and Starvation

Natural Disasters
Volcanic eruptions
• Severe weather
• Thunderstorms
• Extreme Heat
• Blizzards
• Floods
• Land Slides
• Impact with Space Objects
The last major impact with a space object was 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia. The frequency of global catastrophic impacts is very low, once or twice every one million years.
• Solar storms

Failing Technical Systems
• Oil Embargo or Sabotage against oil infrastructure or large scale accidents in oil infrastructure.
Peak Oil
The Limits to Growth
• Global Warming
• Hydro Plant collapse from accidents or sabotage
• Nuclear Power Plant Collapse or Meltdown with radioactive fallout
• Radioloactivel fallout from accidents at storage facilities or transport of radiological material.
• Lose of electrical power (often results in the collapse of communication systems and water system)
• Fallout from chemical industries or chemical transports
• Internet and/or telephone communications systems collapse
• Problem with communications systems (roads, railways, airports)

Economical Problems
• Financial Recession
• Economic Depression or Economic Collapse
• Unemployment

Different kind of Disease
Epidemics (local out brake of disease)
Pandemics (global out brake of a disease)

Remember that a Epidemic or Pandemic classification doesn’t take in to consideration how severe the disease is, all seasonal flues are pandemic, even if they normally only affect the people that are sensitive to disease. The people how normally are extra sensitive to disease are:
* The very young and the old
* People with untreated HIV or AIDS
* People with cancer
* Women how are pregnant

• Disaster in a different area/region/country with your family, friends or loved ones involved.

Step 2: How Likely is this to happen?
1.) Very low
2.) Low
3.) Medium
4.) High
5.) Very High

Step 3: What are the possible Consequences from these events?
1.) Very Low
2.) Low
3.) Medium
4.) High
5.) Catastrophic

Step 4: Calculate the Risk Factor
After you have identified the Risks, there likeliness and the consequences make a Matrix with How likely they are in one axis and the Consequences in the other axis. The events in the upper right corner that is likely to happen and have high consequences, that’s where I suggest you start focusing your attention. Start to study the risks you identified and real events where they have taken place. What lessons can be learned from these events?

Step 5: Risk Management
What Resources are there to Manage these Risks?
Local / Regional / National
Try to get a picture of what resources there is to deal with different kind of crisis where you live. Resources like Military, National Guard, Police, Fire Departments, Paramedics, Hospitals, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Non Government Organizations (NGO:s) like the Red Cross and Religious organizations are some examples.

I also suggest that you add another dimension to your Risk Assessment: How may the Risks affect your capacity for short and long term survival? May your house be destroyed or may the area where you live be contaminated with chemical or radioactive fallout so that you may not be able to return to your home? What kind of Knowledge, Training and Skills and Equipment do you have that can help you deal with these threats? How can you reduce the impact of an event or avoid it completely?

Adjusting to a Changing Situation
Risks are not something that is static. New kinds of threats manifest and new potential problems arise every year. This mean that you’re Risk Assessment must be continuously updated to incorporate new events and trends. How often this should be done depends on the situation but I would suggest that you don’t view a Risk Assessment as a work you perform one time, but more like a continuing process.

The SWOT Analysis
The SWOT Analysis is a common form of analysis designed to see different perspectives of a Past, Ongoing or Future Situation. The Analysis can be used in different settings like Intelligence Analysis, Risk Assessments, Project Management, Business Plans or simply too evaluate a course of action or a Plan.

SWOT means Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The Possibilities and Weaknesses part of the analysis resembles the Pro and Con Analysis. But the analysis also includes the potential unknown or external factors: Possibilities and Threats. If a SWOT analysis is used when there is two or more Parties involved the analysis is often split into two; one analysis that describes the side that make the analysis and the analysis that describes the perspective from the other parties point of view. The SWOT analysis just like a Risk Assessment is a tool that can make it easier to see different perspectives and analyze various situations.

The perception of risk is a factor that comes in play for all individuals and organizations. Identifying risks that we encounter often or that is often highlighted in our society is easy and these types of risks we are often well prepared for.

But sometimes threats manifests from situation when it’s on clear after the event has taken place that there were signs that indicated a threat. This type of intelligence failures are common, some examples are the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorists attacks on 9/11 2001. Another example is the inability for the Intelligence community to foresee the end of the Cold War and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Seeing threats that doesn’t fit into the perception that we have of the world is very hard, but these are often the threats that can have the greatest consequences.

Also see
Analyzing Risks
Gathering Information during Crisis and Survival Situations: HumInt and Interviews
The Westfalian Risk Management Model


  1. While my home is as prepared as I'm able, like you, I believe our knowledge and skills far out weigh "things".

    I encourage my friends to learn 1st Aid AT LEAST because in an Emergency, YOU are your Doctor until help arrives.

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