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Smartly manage risks so you can take more

The first step in the emergency preparedness cycle is mitigation. For disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, it makes sense to work to reduce or even eliminate risks. This does not mean, however, that the goal is to eliminate hurricanes or earthquakes, the focus is on reducing their impact. In some cases, like terrorist acts, the goal is to keep them from even happening -- or again, when they do happen, to reduce the impact.

It's good to keep this in mind as we do risk mitigation to build up our personal resilience. Our focus is to decrease vulnerability to increase resilience. I am not telling you not to take risks, just to be more thoughtful about it and to mitigate bad risks. Taking risks is part of the human condition. Many success stories begin with a person or group taking on a business or personal risk and then working hard to achieve it. We all love those stories. Mitigation can help you be smart about the risks you take.

A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for

William G.T. Shedd

Risks are a combination of likelihood and impact. For the most part, emergency planners focus on risks that are likely and will have significant impact. They also decide whether very likely risks with minimal impact are worth the time and cost to mitigate. Finally, for very unlikely but significant risks like a nuclear war, mitigation for other risks (like severe storms) may provide some help if the worst happens.

Mitigation for increasing personal resilience works in a very similar fashion. We have to look at both likelihood and impact and take some actions based on our assessments and risk tolerance. We also will find that increasing our resilience overall will help us for unlikely or unforeseen events or circumstances.

The first step is to identify the risks that face you. That means looking at where you live and work and where and how you spend your time. Facts and imagination are both helpful here. Also important is being aware of your environment (big picture) and your surroundings (small picture).

For emergency preparedness, risks from the past inform mitigation. Previous floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. have been measured and so a "most likely" scenario can be used as a basis for prediction. This is where the concept for a 100 year flood comes from (a 1 percent likelihood in any specific year). Lessons learned from past problems often form the basis for things like building codes and land use planning, another way that the past and the work of others can be used for mitigation purposes.

For personal resilience, we can also learn from past problems, both those we have experienced and those of others. Think about the kinds of problems you have faced and talk to family, friends, and colleagues about their past. Maybe you will see that money problems are a recurring issue or realize that you have some medical problems that run in your family.

Mitigation of any sort often costs time and money, so in the emergency preparedness business it is often necessary to create laws to get people, businesses, and governments to comply with stricter codes. Otherwise, people tend to assume it "can't happen to them" despite information to the contrary. This is also a problem when we look around and see that others are similarly not mitigating risks, so we can act with a bit of herd thinking.

Have you ever been to the hospital and seen both patients and medical personnel standing outside smoking? We all know that smoking is bad for us, and you would think those two groups might be even more attuned to the need to be smart about that. And still . . .

To avoid the herd mentality in your personal life, set aside time to really look at what risks you might face. Just because it has not happened does not mean it can’t or won’t. Spending some time now will help for when you do face problems. That is what this is all about.

Developing your resilience then gets to the second step. Based on the risks you face, what will you do about them? Without taking action, this is a worthless exercise.

For emergency planners, mitigation can be building codes to increase resistance to tornadoes; setting aside emergency food and water; providing training to first responders; or offering insurance to homeowners in a flood zone.

Your choices are based on the risks you face. If you are working in a competitive industry and your company is not number one (or two), improve your skills, network, and make sure you have some money set aside in case you lose your job. If heart disease runs in your family (or your doctor tells you that you are at risk), eat better and get more exercise and sleep. The mere act of identifying the risks you may face and realizing that you can affect the likelihood, impact, or both will increase your resilience before you take another step.

One key to resilient communities, those that bounce back after a disaster, is the feeling of connectedness that people in the community have for one another. In your personal quest for resiliency, who are your partners? Have a talk with them about building your own community of resilience and find ways to help each other. Waiting until you need them might be too late.

As you build your personal resiliency, you will find that you are better prepared to smartly take on other risks in your life. If you mitigate career risks (or money risks), you can take on bigger challenges, maybe that side business or writing that novel you have thought about for too long. If you improve your health, start planning that hike in the Grand Canyon. Life is too short to hide under the table worrying about what might happen, improved resilience can create opportunities so you make the most of your life.

Opportunity dances with those on the dance floor

Did you create your emergency contact list and save it both softcopy and hardcopy? For homework this time, do some mitigation. Look at the different aspects of your life – financial, health, career, social, etc. What risks might you face in those areas and what can you do to reduce the risks or the impact if they are realized? What step will you take this month to reduce the likelihood or impact of a risk you face?

Now, go make it happen -- Tom