Ash Aces and Snow Supremos: more Risk Champions are needed!

Over the last year, a couple of adverse, but not entirely unpredicted meteorological events have highlighted a significant issue pertaining to Risk Management.
Sept. 30, 2011 - PRLog -- A recent report from the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee informed us that last April’s volcanic ash cloud, which grounded thousands of flights, was an example of poor risk assessment. Nothing Earth-shattering there, but it begs the question of how risks of this nature can be better assessed and mitigated in the future.
Similarly, the chaos caused by the heavy UK snow fall in December 2011 was by no means a unique situation; alarmingly, it was in fact the third year in a row for such an occurrence and suggests that key lessons simply hadn’t been learnt. This therefore prompts questions regarding how the Met Office manages seasonal predictions and how transport operators use this data in terms of risk management.

Do you have Risk Champions in place?

As a result of these two events, the government (and indeed any organisation) must seriously consider increasing the number or risk champions.  It’s vital that those qualified to assess risk are allowed to do so. The volcanic ash cloud is a strong example of what can happen when risk isn’t correctly managed. The risk of disruption to aviation caused by a natural disaster was dropped from the UK government’s assessment process in 2009, despite warning from scientists. Although the risk of eruptions themselves was recorded on the risk register, the threat of ash clouds was not.

In the report, when asked whether the government had got it wrong over the risk of volcanic ash, Professor Beddington replied: “We failed to predict it was a likely event, absolutely.” The Icelandic eruption caught the UK government off-guard, meaning research was hurriedly carried out and UK airspace was closed for more than a week. This resulted in major disruption to passengers and airlines and cost the UK economy millions of pounds.

Similarly, winter weather disruption is extremely costly to the UK’s economy. It costs some £280m per day in transport disruption alone. Therefore, transport operators need to be better prepared so that disruption is kept to a minimum.

The lack of risk management highlights the need for more risk champions at every level within organisations, as more threats emerge. By having an “Ash Ace” or “Snow Supremo” to champion the identification and assessment of the risk of such events, and to implement and monitor effective continuity planning, greater awareness and visibility will be achieved and ultimately help mitigate such risk and reduce the impact on the country and passengers alike.

Risk Champions are required to be enthusiastic and support integrated risk management and must be able to communicate how integrated risk management will help executives meet corporate objectives in the short term and better position the organisation for the future, as well as how to communicate these benefits broadly.
Aside from the failures in predicting the likelihood of risks such as these occurring, these incidents are prime examples of why organisations need to develop contingency plans that link to their assessed risk register to ensure that should a situation require it, any outcome can be effectively managed. In these instances, it appears that no such contingency plans were in place.

Risk can take many forms and affect organisations in different ways. Organisations are often aware of the risk but fail to effectively manage and link it to their overall corporate objectives. Often it’s perceived that adding layers of regulation and legislation will better protect an organisation from risk but the reality is, it can potentially make matters worse. This is because the best processes are worthless if the organisation and employees don’t have an awareness of risk and the implications.

Looking to the future, organisations must educate their employees on the impact of risk and ensure there is ‘buy-in’ from all levels, as often employees can be one of the first defences against risk. This approach also supports the management of individual risks as owners can be assigned to specific risks.

In these examples, officials “got it wrong” by failing to predict the impact of the ash clouds and snowfall and there needs to be greater involvement from risk champions to advise of these types of environmental risks, to better protect the country in the future.
More broadly, irrespective of the organisation or threat in question, it is imperative that all those individuals that can assist in the most effective identification, assessment, monitoring and treatment of risk are able to and that the risk management processes in place facilitate this.

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