Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Elements of Risk Management

First, "Five Dragons" got it. D was the 500th post on the blog, DI the 501st. I was starting to worry that no one would get it until DIV, which would have shattered my illusions about your general brilliance.

This is a lead-up to something I want to write later, so there may be a few things that seem unconnected. Bear with me, my subject (violence) is pretty complicated.

When we first created the Tactical Team, Ron (who had the vision) was very explicit about the team's purpose. It wasn't just to win fights or wear cool uniforms or feel special or even to maintain or regain control. The team was intended from the beginning as a tool of risk management. Risk management, simply, is handling bad events. Bad stuff happens. They are called bad stuff because the consequences are painful or expensive. Sorry if that seems too simplistic, but this is one of the areas, like much of violence, where people complicate the simple stuff and simplify the complicated stuff.

It's not called risk prevention. It's not called risk mitigation and it's not called risk stomping. You manage risk. The first step to managing risk is predicting all you can. If something is predictable, it is preventable, as Gordon Graham likes to say. This means understanding as much as you can about how things go bad. Learning your vulnerabilities. Knowing your environment. Studying how things have gone bad in the past. If you don't know what to look for (or refuse to look) you can't see bad stuff coming. If you can't see it coming, you can't prevent it.

And here's the first semi-unrelated but crucially germane tie-in: I constantly hear martial artists talk about "the tool box" and acquiring 'tools' or skills. I almost never hear them talk in  any informed way about how violence happens. They try to acquire a complete set of mechanic's tools without the diagnostic skills to tell a blown transmission from a flat tire. All the tools in the world are useless if you can't tell when you need them or which ones to use.

An example. Gordon breaks things down into "High Risk/Low Frequency" "Low Risk/Low Frequency" "High Risk/High Frequency" and "Low Risk/High Frequency".  If something is not risky (and that can be a relative term) if it's not dangerous, there isn't usually a need to spend a lot of your training time on it (we're talking survival skills training here).

So the LR/LF and the LR/HF aren't serious risk management problems. It's also true for HR/HF stuff. If there is something particularly dangerous that you do every day, you probably don't need to train on it much. The fact that you have been doing it daily for a while is a good indicator that you know how to handle it.

That means leaves the rare nasty stuff. That is where you really need good, solid training. Training is necessary when experience is rare and stakes are high.  This is, or should be, intuitively obvious. Yet if you break down most martial arts training, the time is spent on relatively LR/HF stuff: Monkey Dances and dueling. Stuff you can walk away from if you keep your ego in check. Those are extremely low risk on the continuum of violence.

(Unfortunately when many instructors drift into HR stuff- weapon defense, multiple opponents and ambush survival- the lack of experience really, really shows. Often it is fantasy and sometimes suicidal.)

So- Prediction. Prevention. Train for the dangerous.

Then mitigation. Sometimes you get blindsided or overwhelmed. No matter how bad you are at risk management, there is one common denominator: if you get nailed it will be by something you didn't see coming, unless you are stupid, ego driven and on some level a willing participant. If you are not skilled at risk prediction and prevention, the trouble you get may be relatively obvious and easy. If you are skilled...

Laurence Gonzales in "Deep Survival" makes the observation that given enough time, bad stuff will happen and systems will fail. The more that is predicted and prevented, the rarer it will be, but it will still happen. One of the side effects of skill in this arena is that when it goes bad, it will be pretty damn weird.  It makes for great stories if you live.

Mitigation boils down to prioritize your losses and what you will protect. Think the 3 P's in order: People, Process, Property.  In a major disaster it means that you get everyone out safely before you even think of saving knowledge (e.g. computers, secret documents) and only after those are protected do you even consider saving stuff. In personal encounters with violence, you do whatever you have to do to get (yourself and/or others) out alive. That is more important than pride, more important than preserving your reputation. Those imaginary things are far more important than your wallet or your car.

Training for violence then: Prediction. Prevention. Train for the most dangerous. Keep clear priorities so that you can adapt when the first steps fail. Practice all those steps, especially adapting.

It's not as hard as some people make it sound. And it's fun.

1 comment:

Kai Jones said...

And the last step is recovery, because unless you can recover from the costs of encountering a risk (including the cost of preparation, not just injury pursuant to dealing with the risk) you haven't actually managed it well.

(My verification text is froven, which is pretty much how I feel, although we're starting to thaw.)