27 September 2005

Rita and The Suicide Bomber...

Now that the U.S. is dealing with the aftermath of a Category 3 hurricane "Rita" and the U.K. is analyzing it's response to the 7/7 "Suicide Bombers", what operational risks do they have in common?

The answer is plain and the truth hurts. There is no stopping either threat and they will always find a way to inflict significant losses to our property and human lives. These threats are at opposite ends of the spectrum however when it comes to the event itself.

One attacker is tracked and shown on national television as it grows and bears down on it's next target. We know when and where. The other attacker is hard to detect in advance and operates in stealth. Now the question again is, what do they have in common? In both cases, we know they are coming again.

Our preparation and planning for the next incident itself, using a myriad of scenario-based exercises or tests can assist those who deter and detect these threats as well as those who will be tasked to alert or defend and help recover from the next one. These are both risks that you can help mitigate the consequences and the impact although one could argue the likelihood is inevitable and increasing.

What is less predictable is human behavior. The emotions, actions and attitudes of dozens, thousands or millions of people can't be predicted. One can only learn from these events and over the course of history, establish a baseline of knowledge. The next incident will be different and it will have some of the same characteristics.

Human behavior is the key to our greatest risk management challenges. Both the U.K. and the U.S. have seen the pictures of bomb and hurricane casualties in the past three months. Human behavior in one case has the attributes of a well-trained and coordinated response. The other case is rapidly becoming a "Case Study" for those public servants who are learning what went wrong. While it's unfair to compare the scope of the two scenarios, it's obvious that we still don't have a firm grasp on human behavior.

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