Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
We have general risks and, quite often when risks manifest themselves the various militaries around the world are called in to deal with the issues, crises, disasters, and catastrophes that occur. The military do not enter these on their own volition nor are they of their own making but, in line with the principle that risk is best dealt with by the party most suited, the military are tasked by their lords and masters.
These tasks include defending their nation’s interests militarily as well as police actions, and peacekeeping. Tasks also include assisting civil governments with political problems such as fireman strikes, dustman strikes and even establishing COVID Hospitals as well as disaster relief after flooding, famine, earthquakes, and the like.
But what happens when the military can’t deal with the risk actions transferred to them? Certain ranks within the army must now address what was once a smell but is now a bad taste as we find ourselves up to our neck in alligators having failed to drain the swamp!
The etymology of Captain is from Latin where it meant ‘Chief’ or ‘Head’. The chief in charge of a crisis, Captain Crisis may well react to every situation with wild enthusiasm. Rather than appreciating the problem, the crisis is looked at as an opportunity for heroics and possible glory. Caution is cast to the wind and the limelight of attention is sought.
Captain Crisis jumps in with gusto while possibly seeking fame, recognition, and promotion. In order not to lose any advantage the plan, if any, is carried out in splendid isolation and kept a secret. Requests for reinforcements or assistance are significant by their absence. After all, ‘nothing can go wrong’ and ‘risk is something that happens to other people’.
Wading in with all guns blazing and shooting from the hip will, most likely, not deal with the issue at hand and it will be escalated to the status of ‘disaster’ and passed up the chain of command.
One step above Captain in most armies’ rank structure is Major. Also derived from Latin, a Major has a greater degree of responsibility than a Captain. Once a crisis is allowed to become a disaster, which is possibly the result of Major Blunder allowing Captain Crisis to act impulsively and without any command and control, it belongs to Major Disaster.
In order to recover the situation Major Disaster must take over the reins. Flaws in the previous approach allowing the crisis to escalate are investigated and the unsuccessful, but enthusiastic efforts of eager-to-please subordinates are revealed. This wasted effort results in disillusionment and, while investigations ensue disorder and confusion prevail.
Major Disaster has a problem because of this confusion, particularly if there are several crises that have not been addressed correctly and people fail to recognise the disaster unfolding around them. At this stage there may be a Churchillian cry of ‘never give up, never surrender’ and some people, while trying to stay cool, calm and collected obviously don’t know what’s going on only add to the chaos. The disaster becomes a ‘catastrophe’.
When the fan has been hit and everybody gets a bit, General Catastrophe is everywhere supported by Generals Confusion and Panic and possibly General Disarray. This is far from a controlled ‘being everywhere’ as in ubiquitous and more akin to being ‘all over the shop’.
This is when we need General Recovery who can rise above the turmoil and see the entire picture. General Recovery-Plan can then develop a scheme to steer the rudderless ship ‘Catastrophe’ to safety. But that’s a navy job and some people would say it’s time to call in the Marines or hope that the US Cavalry will appear on the horizon with bugles playing the Cavalry Charge from the William Tell Overture.
If there is no plan, or the plan fails then the good ship ‘Catastrophe’ and all who sail in her must be abandoned; all we can do is pick up the remains of the day and mourn or preferably salvage the loss. Unfortunately, and as with almost all failures there is the inevitable witch hunt. The sooner this happens the better while the fog of confusion remains as opposed to the clarity of hindsight. We may hear Major Mumbling making excuses and blaming others.
To assist General Catastrophe, General Courts-Marshall takes action to find out who is responsible and who can be blamed so that those justice may be at least seen to be served upon them. After all, the task masters who transferred their risks onto others need to press home who is to blame and, most importantly how punishment may be apportioned; getting in with their version of the truth first and controlling rumours is imperative.
Failure is dealt with by Corporal Punishment. Captain Crisis’ wild enthusiasm may be frowned upon and Major Disaster’s contribution to disillusionment and chaos will be decried but, anybody and everybody involved can be fair game when it comes to punishment.
Collateral damage in military operations is all but inevitable and both the innocent as well as the guilty are sought out and punished. Few people are literally shot but, metaphorically their careers can be. Some are forced to resign and relinquish their positions. Others are pushed sideways and, with their chances of promotion nullified, and they are passed-over and scarred both reputationally and possibly mentally.
The inquiry will reveal what went wrong, who did what wrong and ultimately who dunnit. Despite the blame cast. some lessons learned will be formulated and Corporal Knowledge will be enhanced so that, hopefully, we will do better next time.
Risk management is not about General Considerations. It concerns the specific identification, analysis, and evaluation of risk, its treatment and reviewing the results of corrective action taken. The military approach tends to consider the ‘so whats’ rather than the ‘what ifs’ when selecting a course of action. But no matter what the approach, the ramifications of a risk manifesting itself and then not being managed can be far reaching but it’s about who manages them and how Major Blunders and Major Disasters can be avoided.
When it comes to taking action, many people have been attributed with saying ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness rather than seek permission” when acting impulsively or immediately. This may be believed, but if planned actions are in place as a set of Standard Operating Procedures or Risk Mitigation Plans any Captain Crisis will not be put into a position of having to take even more risks and wing-it with dramatics and heroics.
Even if unplanned action is required, and before embarking on any wildly enthusiastic course of action, it may be better to obtain tacit approval from either General Sense or General Sensibility rather than the potentially biased opinions of Generals Pride or Prejudice. In keeping with the principle that communication flows both up and down any chain of command, communication is always the order of the day and Major General Risks can be addressed using Corporal Knowledge.
Malcolm Peart is an UK Chartered Engineer & Chartered Geologist with over thirty-five years’ international experience in multicultural environments on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro, hydro, airports, tunnels, roads and bridges. Skills include project management, contract administration & procurement, and design & construction management skills as Client, Consultant, and Contractor.