Sunday, April 17, 2016


Planning for Low Probability-High Impact Events


The traditional mindset of most leaders, whether government or civilian (yes, even in the corporate sector) is that a crisis, situation or event that has the potential to disrupt service or mission capabilities can be planned for by writing a comprehensive emergency plan.  Once that’s done, when an event, situation or crisis occurs, they’ll simply pull out the plan and follow it.  This thought-process is flawed from the beginning.  While plans are a good thing to have they are not what they are made out to be unless the crisis follows it.  Unfortunately, most crisis haven’t seen what you written and won’t do what you’ve outlined for it to do.

The mindset of most folks charged with developing the emergency management policy, procedures and plan focus on most likely scenarios first.  They do this because of limited resources, usually in the form of funding.  It’s always about the money! So they plan for what’s most likely and then hope and pray “the BIG One” doesn’t happen on their watch.


Crises can be divided into two categories – conventional and unconventional.  Their nomenclature pretty much says it all. 

Conventional events occur daily somewhere and we’ve usually prepared for them in terms of resources, training and response.  Mainly because we are used to dealing with them, so we make sure we have the resources on hand.  And if we can’t have our own resources then we set up mutual aid agreements with agencies in our neighborhood of the country to provide support.  Unconventional events on the other hand, are a completely different animal.  They are either so rare or so great we have no way of planning or containing them.  Severe novelty events occur infrequently – they are novel, at least we think that.  Honestly, they occur all the time somewhere.  Just watch the news and you’ll get a sense of how common they are.  So the other half of the definition is severe.  Unfortunately, when combined with novelty sever events can immediately overwhelm local resources, know-how and response.

How often do we hear community leaders say, “we never thought it would happen here”?  This attitude causes a failure in “readiness”, communities are “prepared”; i.e., resources stockpiled and training’s been conducted but really are they ready to handle to event because it is outside of their scope of possibilities. 

Community leaders often get paralyzed and delay critical decisions until the crisis fits into a more recognizable model they can get their arms around.  The delay in action causes a delay in achieving “on the ground” superiority over the event.  This in turn can perpetuate the condition, make it worse and cause for a longer timeline in gaining the upper hand.


Since managers cannot fund every project or procedure that will cope with a crisis scenario there is a way to program money into future planning and that’s through a process called “off-set” or “well banking”.  Think of it as money set aside for the “what if – worst case” scenarios that we have every intention on spending once we’ve programmed it into our budget cycle and we’ve saved enough.  I contend that corporations, communities, and other entities can set aside a small portion of their budgets for these worst case events.

More about Impact Centric Planning and other methodologies discussed during workshop at Naval Air Station Jacksonville 14-16 June.  Contact us at 805 509-8655 or to register.

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