> TEOTWAWKI Blog: On Risk Assessment



On Risk Assessment

Failure to perform an accurate, reality-based risk assessment is one of the most common mistakes people make. Biases of all kinds get in the way, and lead people down a path of distraction, impracticality and obliviousness. Impulsive, bad decision making instead of thoughtful, methodical planning.

What is risk assessment? It's the process of identifying and prioritizing risks.

On a more concrete level, you step back and ask yourself a few questions:

  • What am I trying to do?
  • What could break/go wrong/interfere?
  • How severe would it be?
  • How likely is it to happen?

For an example, let's look at a fairly common activity -- commuting in your vehicle. Let's outline some common risks:

  • Motor vehicle accident
  • Dead battery 
  • Run out of gas
  • Car jacking attempt
  • Flat tire
  • Vehicle immobilized due to conditions (bad weather, impassible road conditions)
  • Attacked by a mob of rioters or crazy bikers
Once we have our risks identified, we want to identify the big ones. Do that by triangulating the magnitude of the impact (will get you killed vs. inconvenience) and the likelihood of the risk occurring (common vs. very rare).

At that point, you have your risk assessment in hand.

Now, you can get to work on putting controls and plans into place to avoid or at least mitigate the effects of those risks should they occur. Your most severe / most probable risks should take precedence, but don't ignore the others.

These controls can take the form of activities or habits that you perform -- for example, always filling up your tank when you get below 1/2. Or they can take the form of physical preparations and gear--in the commuting example, that would mean carrying jumper cables, a jack and spare tire, gas can, trauma kit and so on. 

A few other examples of some common activities, risks and controls:

Task: Family security and safety at home
Risks and controls:
  • Home invasion / armed robbery
    • Sturdy doors and locks, and the habit of always locking the doors
    • Alarm system (and habit of using it)
    • Dog
    • Home defense guns (accessible quickly, and training / mindset to use)
    • Family plan
  • Fire
    • Smoke alarm
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Family plan / evac routes
    • Homeowner's / renter's insurance
    • Off-site backups of important documents / data
  • Household accident
    • First aid kit and training
    • Emergency contact numbers
    • Family plan
  • Natural disaster
    • Designated safe room
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Comms gear (back up cell phone, weather radio, HAM radio if licensed)
    • Stored food and water
    • Family plan and evac practice
    • Bug out bags aka 72 hour kits and other survival supplies
    • Evac routes and destination planned
Task: Family security and safety outside the home
  • Armed attacker(s) (robbery, active shooter, kidnapping attempt, road rage, etc.)
    • Concealed carry license and handgun (carried regularly)
    • Firearms training
    • Self defense training
    • Anti-kidnapping / escape training for family
    • Trauma kit, flashlight, knife and other tools
    • Practice situational awareness
    • Avoid high threat areas and situations
    • Family plan
  • Vehicle accident
    • Trauma kit and training
    • Self-extraction tools within arms reach
    • Drive defensively and avoid driving in terrible conditions
    • Buy vehicles with good safety ratings / keep them in good condition
  • Natural disaster
    • Get home bags and supplies in vehicles and/or some basics in EDC gear
    • Situational awareness
    • Communications gear
    • Family plan, rendezvous points and evac plans
Task: Provide for family financially
  • Job Loss / loss of income (normal economy)
    • 3 month emergency fund
    • Both spouses work (or are able to)
    • Maintain network of business contacts
    • Multiple income streams
    • Alternate skills
    • Unemployment insurance
    • Live within means and minimize debt
    • Food storage and other stores at home
  • Economic crash / banking system collapse
    • Cash on hand
    • Precious metal holdings / other 'tangible' investments
    • Food storage
    • Food production ability
    • Off-grid capabilities (power, water, etc.)
    • Ability to switch to 'barter' economy -- valued skills or production ability
  • Health problem / inability to work
    • Emergency fund and savings
    • Health insurance
    • Disability insurance
    • Both spouses work (or are able to)
    • Passive income streams
    • Live within means and minimize debt
You'll note that many of the "controls" are good for more than one risk -- those are smart ones to focus on.

You can get more specific or less specific than the risks above; focus on a very specific task or mission, for example. Here's another:

Task: Travel from home to bug out/evac location during time of emergency
  • Vehicle becomes stranded or stuck (congestion, road conditions, bad weather, EMP)
    • Travel in a group of 2+ vehicles
    • Drive 4x4s with off-road tires, winch and tow straps (less likely to get stuck)
    • Alternate routes planned (avoid getting stuck)
    • Maintain situational awareness
    • Alternate transportation (dirt bike and ATVs)
    • Have on-foot routes planned and packs for the journey
  • Bridge over river is impassible
    • Alternate routes planned (alternate bridge 15 miles away)
    • Plan to leave vehicles and float / swim across river
    • One vehicle to have inflatable raft in case of crossing
  • Attacked en route to location
    • Travel in group of 2+ vehicles
    • Take tactical driving course
    • Training and response plan (e.g., drive through at high speed if possible, else bail out from vehicles and engage)
    • Weapons and support gear in vehicles
    • On-foot routes planned / bags for the journey in case vehicles must be ditched or become inoperable
    • Communications gear to call for support
    • Trauma kits
    • Plan routes through decent areas, including alternate routes
    • Situational awareness
Avoid the temptation to focus purely on extreme impact events that have an extremely low likelihood of happening. Our minds have a tendency to focus on those big, scary things and artificially inflate their perceived likelihood of happening--that one in a billion event can become a perceived near certainty overnight. Devoting too much time and resources to any one extreme long shot event can be unbalancing, unhealthy and counterproductive. 

There is also the idea of "risk acceptance," which is simply recognizing the risk exists but not taking any actions to control or mitigate that risk. You may choose not to take action because of cost, resources, laziness, acceptance of impact should the risk occur or your judgment on how likely the risk is to occur. 

People do the risk acceptance math all the time, whether consciously or not. They live in hurricane zones but have zero in the way of emergency supplies, they say things like "if the crap hits the fan, I guess I will just die," or maybe they'd just rather spend their time and resources on fun and leisure. To each their own.

Corporate, government and military planning is full of risk assessment -- it's used by business execs planning expansion into new regions, NASA for planning missions into space, and spec ops units gearing up for a direct action raid against a terrorist cell. 

Think through the eventualities, plan and prepare for the bad things that can happen.