Saturday, May 5, 2012

risk management

The class is at their breaking point. Four days of powerpoint slides have pushed them to the brink, and now this. Muttering and frustrated paper shuffling ensues. Anarchy and chaos are only a few steps away.

We are attempting to teach them how to complete a formal aviation risk assessment. First, you identify the known hazards for a certain helicopter project, for example, general aviation activity in the project area. Nobody has a problem with this, imagining radio-less, non-NOTAM-reading Buffoon Bob zipping around in his traildragger wanting to take a look at the helicopters. Everyone generally agrees that the effect of encountering said Buffoon Bob could be very hazardous. So you move on to the next step, mitigating Bob. Here people have no trouble either, throwing out suggestions like contacting the airport manager to pass on information about the project, not conducting operations on weekends, and so on. So far so good. Here is where people start falling into the abyss.

After you have mitigated the hazard presented by Bob, is this risk then low? or still extremely high, or somewhere in between? Students argue passionately. They become angry. "This is so subjective!" they complain. They are looking for black and white answers, and all we can give them is gray.

We do risk assessments in our heads every day. Should I take that job, go out with that guy, take that trip? Our past experiences haunt us like stalkers in the shadows. Sometimes they hold us back, but sometimes they set us free. Ever since the day I crawled out of a crashed helicopter on the rim of the Grand Canyon, I have had no fear when I fly, although there were times when I had a right to. On the other hand, I have been known to timidly heel slide down a particularly icy ski slope on my snowboard when it just "didn't feel right". One person's risk is another person's adventure.

The class eventually comes to a grumbling consensus, probably mostly due to the fact that they want lunch. As they leave, I can tell they still want definite answers. They want us to tell them yes, this risk is extremely high, or low, without a shadow of a doubt. If you do x, then y will result. They don't want gray. We can't give them this.

You can plan obsessively, so much that you become consumed by it. Sometimes you need to take the risk. Take that overseas trip, even if you don't have a friend to go with. Move to that new place where you don't know anyone. Stay up late and follow the rain up to where it turns into snow. Do it, because even though with some risks you take there may be pain and fear and loss all mixed up in it, in the end there will be something good there too. I'm sure of it.

Image from, but we did see an amazing TRIPLE rainbow recently coming back from an rx burn.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Ah, yes, the restless class members who want certainty (and lunch!). Great word pictures...I can see them (and have tried to instruct a few in other fields). You're a pro!

  3. Good thing for class to learn--in fire management and life. Lots of grays, not so many black-and-white scenarios. They are lucky to have you as a teacher. :-)


I try to answer all comments, so comment away!