Example: Risk Management in a School
For some exercise in the use of all of these newly defined terms, imagine yourself practicing risk management in a school. Suppose that you are principal of the operation, a glitzy private boarding school for boys and girls in grades 5 through 8.
Since you are a professional in your field, you are well aware that there are certain awful things (risks) that might happen to the children left in your care. You don’t just think about these matters from time to time; they are on your mind constantly. After all, these are other people’s children you’re looking out for, and you can’t take that responsibility lightly.
Some of the bad things that might happen can be safely handled by you and your staff with nothing more than a little quick thinking at the moment of transition. For example, there is no need to have an elaborate plan in place for how to deal with a pillow fight. Any teacher worth his or her salt will figure out how to handle that one and act accordingly.
But, you realize, there is a class of graver risks that require you to have done at least some serious planning in advance. Fire in one of the dorms, for example, is such a risk. You would be disgraced should it be proved after a fire that you hadn’t done certain homework before the fire broke out. The homework (mitigation) needed before the event includes the placement of fire extinguishers, the installation of alarms, fire drills, an investment in sprinklers, and so forth.
The actual occurrence (transition) of this particular risk will probably be invisible to you when it happens, so you have to put in place and monitor some kind of mechanism (transition indicator) to spot it when it begins. You have a choice of several mechanisms. You might just ask the janitor to take a moment every few hours to poke about the facility looking for smoke or flame. Or you might install smoke alarms. In making your choice, you decide that you should try for the earliest practical indicator of the transition, so the smoke alarm is clearly preferable.
Realizing that fire is only one of the risks requiring advance homework, you call together your teachers and staff and pose the problem to them. You suggest, Let’s have an exploratory session (a risk-discovery brainstorm), and make up a definitive list (a risk census) of all the risks for which advance preparation is needed.
“What are the risks requiring advance preparation?” you ask them. They call out such things as fire, sports injury, food-poisoning, sexual abuse by a teacher or staff member or outside stranger, sexual experimentation by students, drugs, guns, depression leading to suicide, attacks on teachers or children, and so on.
Included among the suggestions are some that aren’t worth managing (“meteor hits school and blows it to smithereens with loss of all staff and students”). There are others for which the extent of your responsibility is not so obvious. For example, “some aspect of a science lesson shakes a student’s religious faith.” Is this a risk you need to manage? You note it down and press on with the brainstorm. Afterward, you’re going to have to go back over the list and do some further work on the risks (risk analysis). You’ll have to decide which ones to manage and which ones not (risk triage). For those you elect to manage, you will need, at the very least, to figure out your best trigger (transition indicator), plan your pretransition actions (mitigation), and assess the relative importance of the risk (exposure analysis).
When the brainstorm bogs down, that doesn’t mean you’re done. You will want to put some kind of persistent mechanism in place (an ongoing risk-discovery process) to pick up new risks that require management. You may want to appoint one person to be especially responsible for this (a risk officer).