As a former United States Air Force Readiness Troop (formerly known as “Disaster Preparedness” and, I think, now known as “Emergency Management”), AFSC 3E9X1, part of the Disaster Response Force within Civil Engineering Squadron’s “Prime BEEF” (Base Emergency Engineer Force), and having trained heavily with RED HORSE, I was exposed to quite the gamut of “Full-Spectrum Threat Response Plans”. I could go on ad nauseam about the myriad of tasks and responsibilities affiliated with this career field, but I wont. Specifically, this is about the process of performing a Risk Assessment and Hazard Analysis.
I’m sure as many experts in their own fields can relate: when consulting with clients, many times they are confronted with a mentality involving those wanting to be spoon-fed instructions and to simply have someone tell them how to do things. This isn’t a healthy paradigm for learning, as it fails to take into account the varied circumstances and different types of need which exists between individuals. We have to assess our own situations, capabilities and thusly fulfill our own particular needs. As the line goes, “Give a man a fish, and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and feed him for a lifetime.” What I’m going to attempt with this article is to assist in determining our needs based on a fairly simple process and subsequently attempt to safeguard the fulfillment of those needs.
Now, before I get into the meat and potatoes of this process, let me preface this by stating that my current method is far-removed from the standard I learned in the USAF. Though, let me point out this was the fundamental foundation which I’ve built upon, streamlined and adapted to my own needs. That being said, your results may vary.
First, before we can analyze any potential hazards that could stem from exposure to any one risk, we must first assess the risk itself. Risk is not just an engrossing board game that often tests one’s patience with their family/friends, it is something we do every day, mostly on a subconscious level. When you cross the street, you look both ways (I would hope). Even if there are no vehicles on the road, there could be, the potential is there. Hence the risk and the need to look both ways. That’s an example of a simple risk assessment.
When we want to bring our conscious minds into the decision-making paradigm, it takes on a bit more of a “brainstorming” format. The keystone of the Risk Assessment is identifying risk. Some risks are easy to identify and often very obvious. Others, as I’m about ready to get into, are asymmetric and seemingly random. One must use reason, as while mathematically we are all at risk of having a meteor plow through the ceiling and strike us dead, it’s not within likelihood to consider it as a “reasonable” risk.
The first step in Risk Assessment is first look at your setting (or potential setting if brainstorming future potential risks). Where you are, where are you going, what is likely going on around you, what the weather is like and even the motivations of people around you. Here is where a lot of imagination comes into play as well as mental role-playing. Get a pen and paper and start jotting down adjectives/nouns to describe the likely setting.
For example, if I were going on a cross-country road trip this summer, I would list something like this:
High Gas Prices
Late night driving
-No Spare Tire
No vacancy in motels
-Sleeping at rest stop in vehicle
-Driving straight through the night without sleep
-Minimal Insurance Coverage
This is just a quick and dirty brainstorm of potential settings encountered on a trip such as this, but one could apply this method to any daily activity, whether it be indoors or out, mobile or static. The more you do it the more you can quickly turn your brain into the powerful difference engine that it is and do it more in your head and on the fly–even doing it quickly in the middle of a constantly changing situation. We’ll get more into that later.
Now that we’ve outlined the basic setting we’d likely encounter in our scenario, we can identify the risks associated with it. At first glance, we can just scan down the list, and let the potential risks pop in our heads when we read each line. “High Gas Prices” might make you think “Potentially insufficient funding for trip costs”, just as we see “Heat” and might combine that with “Older Vehicle” and think “potential engine overheating” or even “potential dehydration” when also combined with “Broken A/C” and “Desert Route”. Now we’re jiving with identifying actual risks. Jot these thoughts down. These are actual risks.
Once you’ve identified the risks, we can now finalize our “risk” step by assessing them all. There is no precise mathematical formula for this, so it takes a lot of logic, reasoning and common sense. I would go through this new list of identified risks and number them in the order of their priority/severity/probability. Once you’ve considered the severity/likely exposure to each risk, you’ve successfully assessed them. Now we’re simply seeing how likely each identified risk is, and how much each might impact our situation if things go worst-case.
A quick side-note on “worst-case”. Sometimes we hate to think this way but even if it’s extremely unlikely that something could go so wrong, if you plan for it going that wrong, then even if/when something happens and it is likely less severe, you’ll be more than ready for it because you’ve already considered/factored in something far worse.
Now that we’ve assessed (prioritized) our risks, we’re going to analyze the hazards each one could potentially expose us to (starting with the highest-priority risk). While looking at the areas which generated the most severe risk, we can derive any number of hazards that come along with it.
This process can take a little longer, and a little more in-depth consideration. We’ve already identified the risk of traveling through a desert route in an old vehicle in the summer without working air-conditioning. If we were to attempt to mitigate that risk and not drive through any deserts, we’d potentially increase the risk of running out of trip funds in paying high-gas prices by increasing miles driven. This is merely weighing the risks of one vs. the other.
Every action has some consequence, just like every identified risk has a hazard that needs analyzing. In the setting brainstorming phase, we saw the potential to drive without sleeping through the night. One of the risks that could incur would be impaired driving or falling asleep at the wheel. The hazards that could stem from that risk would be swerving off the road, hitting an animal (not reacting in time), rear-ending another vehicle, etc.
Basically, when analyzing a hazard, you’re simply looking at any and all worst-case scenarios each risk can lead to. To simply, we’ll revisit the crossing-the-road example. Crossing the road is the act. Potentially crossing in front of the path of moving vehicles on that road are the risk. Getting struck by a vehicle and being injured or killed is the hazard.
Now, let us return to the topic of doing this process ad hoc or on the fly. It takes practice in a more formalized setting to “tune” your thought-patterns into it but you’ll pick up on it quickly. The more you use this in your prepping brainstorming, the more efficient it can be accomplished. You’ll know you’ve “got it” when you can process the risks/hazards at your present time and location and project forward in likely future settings, compartmentalizing contingency plans A, B, C. etc. off the top of your head. But even doing this as simply an exercise can help prioritize your needs and your loved-ones’ needs and incorporate those needs into your contingency plans.
To maximize survival, do everything you can to plan to avoid threats to the fulfillment of those needs. This process can be applied to anything. From walking outside to get the mail or planning another moon landing. Consider everything.
Remember that once you’ve established a baseline Risk Assessment and Hazard Analysis, you can move on to mitigating risks by planning around them. It really is a risk-vs.-reward type of thinking. If the risk is too great for any potential reward/benefit, try to work around another way. If the other way is too implausible, then you might have to move on to taking the risk and then focus on minimizing hazards (by planning for them–in fact by even expecting them).
Things can get dicey, because planning for and minimizing potential hazards can be both time consuming (training) and expensive (gear/logistics). Just like anything valuable to us (goods or services), prepping is paramount. In its essence, prepping is hinged upon specific goods (stored food, medical supplies, firearms/ammo, water purification, spare ___(fill-in-the-blank)___, etc.) and services (medical training, firearms training, martial arts training, etc.).
Prepping in both material and mindset is valuable not only because of the exponential increase in survivability in contingency situations, but in all the time and resources (i.e. money) spent in its pursuits. It is an investment. An investment in our future and likely the futures of those we hold dear. determine your needs, and protect the continuing fulfillment of those needs accordingly by considering all the angles you can possibly imagine. Use your imagination, be creative. Brainstorm, bounce ideas around with others who share your concerns.
Don’t be afraid to streamline or alter this process to suit your own needs. Or to think of something entirely new. That sort of thing is what leads to innovation, after all. Don’t lead people blindly or follow people blindly. Innovation comes from creative individual need-fulfillment. Learn from each other. Teach each other. Share anecdotes, they may open someone else’s eyes to risks and hazards they never considered before–and hopefully they may do the same for you.
As always: Keep your ear to the ground, an eye to the sky, your bayonet sharp and your powder dry.