systems exist to alert us to potential loss. Yet sometimes they fail and losses
occur. Do we expect too much of these systems?
Do we spend too little time thinking about this vital layer in our
A common and frustrating failure mode for warnings is when the party responsible sees the
problem but doesn’t properly perceive it; hears of a problem, but either
doesn’t understand it or doesn’t act. Management
and staff are equally vulnerable. Periodic
tests are needed and not all of them
should be 'canned."
Do all actors behave as expected?
Finally, don’t put all your faith in technology or warning systems.
Knowledgeable, motivated human beings, although susceptible to their own
problems, can be your best warning system.
It pays to listen to them.
On the mechanical side, the warning system itself may break down. What assumptions does it depend on? What is the back-up system? Has it been recently tested? Have parameters and tools been calibrated?
In sum, warning systems can be very helpful, but only if they work as intended. Neglected, they can fail, just when you need them most. Any change in the warning system, its environment or the staff responsible can induce errors. A sustained period free of loss is no reassurance – it is its own warning! When did you last check to see if your system worked as intended? A catastrophic loss is the most useless warning system of all.
Risk: Informing Decisions in a Democratic Society. This concise
(250 page) account, edited by Paul C. Stern and Harvey V. Fineberg, was
released in 1996 by the US National Research Council. It covers the
characterization and integration of public risk, always a challenge in a society
with many diverse stakeholders. It also includes a short section on ways to
effect common deliberation and public participation.
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Mike Murphy has been a risk management consultant for the last five years. Prior to that, he spent 17 years (78-96) with Transport Canada, his last five as Regional Director General, Aviation in Winnipeg managing heavy-duty public risk. Originally trained as a professional pilot, he is the author of an internationally acclaimed 500-page report entitled "An Evaluation of Emergency Response Services at Airports in Canada." He is also the Chairman of the Air Passenger Safety Group (APSG), a Director of Transport 2000 Canada, a Director of the Ottawa Chapter of Christian Businessmen's Committee (CBMC) and the Secretary General of the Peugeot Club of North America (PCNA).
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(Available in Word 97/2000 by email or by fax from):
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CADMUS Corporate Solutions Limited,
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How we developed our risk management process
Process Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 For Senior Executives
How to contact CADMUS About our President
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