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The concept of risk management is one that has to encompass the whole of your
program, from the first day of planning a new activity through the last piece
of gear that is put away when the trip is over. It is such a huge task and involves
so many different players in your organization that it's often hard to make
sure that all the jobs get done and done well. Our goal is to give you a framework
to operate from that will help you both vision and envision how risk management
permeates your organization.
Like other approaches to experiential education, we are going to provide you
with a metaphor to guide us through the process. To illustrate our process completely,
we are going to start at the very beginning of our imaginary program. We are
going to develop from scratch an outdoor adventure activity and take it through
five stages, assessment, planning and developing the program, selecting &
training staff, running the program and finally review and evaluating the program.
So let's begin with our ocean voyage metaphor. Your job is to go on an ocean
voyage. In order to do that you must:
We are going to follow each of these through our program.
Determine the goals and objectives of your program.
Plan a program that meets the stated goals and objectives.
Select and train staff for your program.
Recruit and select participants for your program. This may involve
some pre-screening of your clients.
Participate in the Activity provide the necessary field and administrative
support to the program.
Evaluate the performance of the program, the staff, and the program
operation. Review any incidents/accidents and make any necessary changes.
When starting any program the first step is to assess what
your goals are for the program. What you are doing at this stage is identifying
the type of voyage you want to take. You need to be able to answer the following
questions - the 5 W's:
Within this list of 5 primary topics you also need to prioritize
them in the correct order for your program. If I am a rafting guide my What
and Where may already be determined. I may want to start a rafting company
on the Snake River. In that case, the other three areas flow from those two
higher priorities. If I decide that I want to work with disabled youth in
an adventure setting and develop self-esteem and self-confidence, then the
Who and Why are the most important priorities and I must work from there to
establish the others. In our voyage scenario this means deciding what sort
of boat I am going to build. Who are the passengers, what experience am I
offering them. Where will out voyage go? What sort of conditions will be face?
What type of boat will I need (size, shape, speed, stability, seaworthiness,
The 5 W's are the keel and the major ribs of the boat. They
serve as the framework that gives the vessel its shape and structural integrity.
Keep in mind that if you have designed or built these 5 W's poorly then you
have a weak frame on which to build the rest of your vessel.
The Assessment sets the basic design parameters for our boat.
Now we have to draw out the detailed plans for the boat itself. Given the
5 W's from our Assessment we carefully craft a boat that most effectively
meets those stated needs/goals. There are lots of different types of boats
that we can build, anything from a small day sailor for operating on a lake
or quiet water (e.g. New Games or Low Ropes Course at a permanent site) to
an America's Cup Racer or Trans-Atlantic sailboat (e.g. climbing Mt. Everest).
The key to building the right boat is to keep the Who, What, Where, When and
Why (in whatever priority order) in mind throughout the planning process.
If you build an America's Cup racing boat but then staff it
with an inexperienced crew and passengers who have never been sailing before,
you are asking for trouble. So throughout the Planning and Development stage
you must constantly reassess how what you are doing meets the 5 W's. Another
part of designing you boat is to look at materials and costs. What will it
take to build this boat? How long will it take? How much will it cost to do
it right? You may find as you move through this stage that the costs/resources
needed to build the boat design you have chosen are more than you have. At
this point, before even laying the keel of the boat you have to reassess you
original plan and potentially scale back. On the other hand, if your original
plan was conservative, you may find that you can build a different boat than
you originally planned.
There are a few basic requirements to all the boats that we
are going to build:
What we are doing here is building the boat. Now we put on
the planks on top of this solid frame. So the order of our building process
goes something like this:
As you saw, each plank that we can build has some limitations.
It is unlikely that we will be able to hire Emergency Room Physicians who
are Mt. Everest Climbers to run our top rope rock climbing program. That means
that not all the gaps will fit together perfectly. There will be some gaps
in our hull. Gaps, if not patched result in leaks. By properly identifying
these areas these gaps we can fill them with other support structures.
Now that you have identified the type of voyage you are going
on and have planned and built your boat, now it is time to find and train
a proper crew. You have already identified the voyage and constructed you
boat. Part of that process involved looking carefully at your staff, the crew.
There are three basic stages to getting your crew.
The training process needs to be carefully thought out. Whenever
possible you should be training your crew on the same type of boat and in
the same conditions that they are likely to experience with their passengers.
Simply taking them out for a day sail on a dingy will not prepare them for
a rough Trans-Atlantic crossing.
Reassessment - Once again you may find that you can't find
crew that match your needs or you may not have enough resources to provide
the type of training & experience you need for the crew you can find.
If that's the case it's time to either change the vessel or the voyage or
both to create a situation that the crew is capable of handling.
Who are your passengers? How will you find them? What are
the goals and expectations they have for the voyage? What type of previous
experience (if any) do they need to safely participate in this voyage?
A critical concept in this model is the notion of Actors and Actions
both of which interact with each other to create either positive,
neutral, or negative situations. In our boat metaphor, these things
can either be positive, neutral or negative factors to our boat's
buoyancy. The key Actors are:
These 5 Actors all have the potential to interact with each other
in complex ways. As a result, we represent these Actors through a
Web diagram. At the center of the Web are the clients (passengers)
who are the central focus of the voyage. The Actors generate the Actions
(positive, negative, or neutral) that affect the boats buoyancy.
This is a fundamental fact for all vessels and all programs. No matter
who you are, how well you have built you boat, how good your crew
and passengers are, things happen. We seen this on everything from
Mt Everest expeditions to trips to the moon. As you saw before, for
each plank that we create for the boat there is always more that could
be done--improved boat design, better plank fitting, stronger wood,
There are also all sorts of unpredictable things that can happen
that can cause the boat to leak or take on water. Both things anticipated
and planned for and things entirely unplanned for result in leakage.
The boat can also take on water from other factors external to the
boat and crew. There are errors, bad weather, Acts of God, poor judgment,
etc. that lead to the boat taking on water (a terrible storm, rough
water, huge waves crashing over the deck). The ultimate catastrophe
is for the boat to sink. Literally, this might mean that the program
itself fails in its mission or it might mean that staff or participants
are actually injured or killed. Anytime a boat sinks it is bad news.
So now we have some important things to think about. Think back to
your boat design, the conditions you sent the boat out into and your
passengers and crew. Are all of those things up to the challenges
the voyage will hurl at them? What about the unexpected? Can your
crew handle that? How much water can your boat take on and still be
seaworthy? What happens if the crew can't bail fast enough and the
boat is riding just above the waterline? What if the crew don't notice
the leak until it is too late and that one rogue wave hits tipping
the boat over?
Here we can see a basic model that shows that there are always some Risk
Gaps in any program, even in the "perfect mythic program." You can see
three different types of programs from a "para-professional" college outdoor
program to a professional program like OB and NOLS or our mythic "perfect
program." The columns below represent the different planks of your boat,
how complete each one is and how well they fit together. We can reduce
the potential for leaks by improving the quality of our construction and/or
by raising or lower the activity level bar (how easy or difficult our
That leaves us with us with the voyage itself (your specific
program). Once the boat leaves the harbor, the crew and passengers may be
more or less on their own depending on the location of the program and the
availability of Support and Administrative assistance while the voyage is
underway. In the table below we see the impact of:
Floating Forces - Positives (pumping & plugging)
Sinking Forces - Negatives (leaks)
Many of you will be familiar with a number of the models for
how accidents occur. These include the Dynamics of Accidents Model developed
by Alan Hale in the 1980's, work done by Jed Williamson and others that is
used to identify the underlying factors that have precipitate accidents and
All of these models fit in well with out boat and voyage metaphor.
The Environmental Hazards and Human Factor Hazards models are all factors
that cause the boat to leak. It is the responsibility of the crew and management
to properly identify and eliminate these risks or provide resources to mitigate
their effects. For example, the group that is backpacking in November in New
England must be prepared to deal with extremely cold weather, including freezing
rain and snow. Staff cannot prevent such weather but by having the proper
equipment like good tents and making sure that participants have the proper
clothing, they can prevent hypothermia and other accidents.
A director's worse nightmare is the impact of catastrophic
system failure. This results when the boat fills with so much water that it
can no longer stay afloat. Catastrophic System Failure often occurs when numerous
small leaks end up filling the boat with water. The crew and passengers may
not even notice that the boat is just barely floating above the waterline,
then one last factor is added in and the boat starts to sink. The question
is, are the crew competent enough to save the vessel.
Where are the points for Potential Catastrophic System Failure
in Your Organization?
Boat that is not sturdy enough for the sailing conditions.
Crew that is improperly or inadequately trained.
Overloaded boat - too many passengers or taking on too many things.
Unexpected weather or other conditions
Too many small leaks in the boat.
"Rogue Wave" that smashes into the boat
Following a voyage it is essential to do a careful Review
and Assessment of how the voyage (program) went. These are just a few of the
questions that you need to ask to establish how well your organization has
planned and executed the voyage.
All boats get old. With regular upkeep and maintenance (constant review,
reassessment) and through staying up to date on the latest standards and
techniques of seamanship (outdoor programming), vessels can be kept sailing
safely for years. There are boats out there built hundreds of years ago
that are still afloat and sailing thanks to careful and regular maintenance.
However, failure to stay current and do the proper review and restructuring
means that boats become leakier and less seaworthy overtime. This is especially
problematic since crews (field staff) often change frequently and don't
develop lots of organizational history and experience. The administration,
often the keepers of organizational history, may be too far removed from
the field and base their operations on outdated standards and approaches.
"It has always worked for us that way," is a statement that has caused
far too many tragedies. You need to think carefully about how you will
keep your vessel afloat and sailing well for the long haul. In some cases
you may decide either to completely retire a boat (program) or build a
new one from scratch. You also might decide that the boat, the crew and/or
the passengers are no longer appropriate for the type of sailing conditions
you have been putting them in so you place them in a less demanding setting.
This may provide you will a more than adequate level of risk management.
Our goal here has been to give you an overview of how Risk Management permeates
all aspects of your program. It is not simply the job of a "risk manager" in
your organization or some committee that meets twice a year. Everyone on the
organization has to understand the big picture and their individual areas of
responsibility within that big picture in order to make sure that risk is properly
managed and that the overall goals of your voyage, a safe and beneficial experience
for you passengers, has been met.
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