> 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.


  1. Great info, thanks.

  2. This is a great article for those who are just starting to look into basic survival. Excellent job on this. Any particular dog breeds you would personally recommend for those trying to avoid home robberies? Preferably ones that would be friendly with the family but vicious with the intruder?

    1. I am unfortunately not a dog expert. However, unless you invest in some serious protection work training, I would only count on a dog as an early warning system. And dogs hat are good for protection work often do not make the best family dogs.

      But, as an early warning, very many breeds will bark at people snooping around the property or in the house without permission.

  3. Ugly Rooster, hey TBlog... Alex!
    I'm a bit of an expert... Only as a K9 handler, NOT a trainer. Here's some input for Marcus...
    Obviously, make a choice between alert and bite. If all you want is alert, then any small dog works. He should be operating from Defensive Drive... I don't like that sound or smell so BARK BARK.
    If you want bite, then I recommend a dog big enough to do something about it... Think 40# as a minimum. No floppy eared dogs. Pointed like a shepherd. Avoid breeds with a bad generic history... I will avoid naming breeds to elude the argument. But for a house dog, you want him to bite out of Defense, not Aggression. That way, you COULD put some bite training into him or her and he would be able to be around your family more safely. Either way, you need SOME pro training. A great find would be a wash out K9 animal that got some good training but lacked Fight or Dominance. Prepare to pay $2000 even for that dog. But still.. Go get training or you will fail. You with the dog. And maintain training .

  4. I just wanna say that since 2012 I have been conducting annual risk assessment analysis for a client who is a major pharmaceutical firm. In my idle time I have been also doing the same for my family. :-)

    My wife used to humor me for the preparations that I make, and for years its been a lonely job... getting weapons, buying food & storing them, learning first aid, learning skills, reading this blog...

    But she's come on board with me ever since she attended a disaster preparedness seminar at our daughter's school last year. suddenly she understands that the possibility of a TOTWAWKI or at least a WROL situation can arise and threaten the safety of our family. I mean, we live in the Pacific Rim of Fire, so a breakdown of society Katrina or Leyte-style is always a possibility.

    its awesome! we have a diagram of catastrophic, severe, substantial, and marginal losses VS imminent, very likely, likely, unlikely, and remote possibilities. this helped us work as a team. Its a big deal for me to have her share my enthusiasm. sure I keep most of my gear in my man-cave, but its nice that she's come with me to the shooting range, first aid seminars, and we go to the gym together now. heck, we gonna get our daughter into gymnastics and whatever martial art she wants. Life is getting good.

    I'm a fan, this blog rocks :-)