Perhaps it is a truism to say that all life is full of risk. We encounter many uncalculated outcomes, some beneficial and others adverse. It can be difficult to know which adverse events will prove permanently disadvantageous, since some may lead to innovation and opportunities for the future. Businesses, especially in the financial context, often consider risk in terms of opportunities for gain. Risk in our context is a way of describing the probability and consequences of harm, or at worst a disaster. Risk tries to identify the expected losses from the impact of a given threat to a given vulnerable element over a specified time period.
As a formal intellectual discipline, risk management is still evolving. Explicit techniques have been around for many years in some fields, such as engineering where deterministic outcomes are possible, i.e. where the behaviour of the system may be modelled according to some physical or chemical laws. The codes of practice developed for these relatively simple risk situations have led to many improvements in society – buildings that stay standing after earthquakes, affordable cars, etc. At a different level of complexity, the business world has developed its own practices that draw on risk methods for financial management. There are also examples in the biological and health fields.
It was not until the 1960s when military and space requirements became increasingly demanding that risk analysis was formalised into a practical discipline to deal with complicated situations. At that point, attention moved from failure analysis of individual components, to integrated assessments of the reliability of whole complex systems. Modelling techniques became formalised, methods were developed to identify and improve the weakest links, and risk management gained credibility in many industries.
Risk management involves a multitude of actors and stakeholders. In recent years, risk techniques have evolved still further to encompass human interaction with engineering systems, i.e. to combine predictable, quantifiable, technical risks with the uncertain reactions of human operators or natural systems. Management systems evolved to provide support in dealing with factors such as ‘oversight’. They offer tools for the systematic implementation of policy and strategy. Integrated management systems help ensure that safety, quality, environmental and business risks are managed right across an organisation. They provide a foundation on which to build a more effective management system and create internal mechanisms for continual improvement.
Risk assessment and management are information-intensive. Large volumes of technical information have to be gathered, processed, analysed, and eventually communicated to a broad range of users under quite different conditions, ranging from planning and regulatory activities to emergency management.
An integral part of management systems is emergency preparedness – the management of emergencies and disasters.
There cannot be many organisations of any size whose activities do not involve the need for emergency planning. After studying this unit you should be in no doubt that it should be on your personal agenda. You should also appreciate the value of incorporating the process of integrated emergency management into the culture of your organisation.
One word of caution – you are now in the situation of knowing that you should have an emergency plan, and, as we understand the law, if you know that something should be done and you choose to do nothing about it then you are liable. The phrase ‘noblesse oblige’ is usually translated as ‘nobility has its obligations’. If nobility has its obligations, then so do emergency planning, and safety, health and environmental management.