Managing risk - A process or a lifestyle?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Troy Faaborg
  • 509th Medical Operations Squadron
All Airmen have been trained in the tenets of operational risk management. Risk management is not just a method we should study on a pie chart or checklist; it should be a part of nearly every decision we make - a lifestyle rather than a mere process. 

The first step in managing risk is the identification of hazards. This is elementary yet critically important, as there is very little you can do to manage unknown risks. Many times identifying hazards requires only an effort to consider what could go wrong. Telling your friend, "Hey, your wallet is about to fall out," or "Watch out for that deer," are simple examples and basic applications of risk management. It really is that easy. 

But how can you ensure every possible hazard has been identified? Knowing what is going on around you by actively paying attention is the basic definition of situational awareness and an important component of risk management. 

Nearly everyone has heard of situational awareness. While it is true that an accurate perception of how you relate to the events and environment near you is important, it does not stop there. The past also plays a role in situational awareness in the form of background knowledge, training and experience. If you have been in a situation before, you will know what to expect based on that experience, you will have an idea of what the hazards are and will know how you can deal with them. If you have not "been there and done that," you can supplement the lack of first-hand experience with academic knowledge or training. 

What distinguishes good situational awareness from great situational awareness is the ability to forecast the potential threats that may occur in the future. Part of this future thinking is considering how your current actions will affect you later. Are your decisions just a quick fix that will actually cost more in the long-run? Are you painting yourself into a corner, or have you left yourself a way out? This ability to consider what could go wrong in the future and what you can do now to help yourself out is a step in the risk management process. 

As in military operations, our goal is to try and plan for every possible situation. Following an incident or accident you may hear the excuse, "I never saw it coming." Typically, this is a result of poor situational awareness or a lack of attention. There are times, however, that we really may not be able to forecast a problem because it is a unique or unprecedented situation. If we have effectively managed all of the predictable risks, we will be in a far better position to effectively counter the unexpected hazards along the way. 

The most frequently overlooked risk management step is the final step of supervising the process as it unfolds and then reviewing the event. If you take the time to monitor your progress, pay attention along the way and occasionally revisit the risk management steps, it will help guard against continuing on with your original plan if the situation has changed. By reviewing how things went following a decision or event, you gain valuable experience with what went well and with what did not work in your plan. Using this experience the next time you are in the same situation will help you avoid trouble and improve your likelihood of success. 

Risk management is not just an annual training requirement or a process that we use on duty to make our section safety-monitors happy. Incorporating the steps of the risk management process, situational awareness and the Wingman concept provides a way to improve performance and personal safety both on and off duty in nearly any situation. No pie chart required.