Thursday 20th October marked the third annual Great California ShakeOut, as 8.6 million participants joined the earthquake preparation drill across California and beyond. This unique event was originally a scenario exercise organised as part of the United States Geological Survey's Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project, aimed at preparing the Californian public on the earthquake-prone San Andreas fault line.
Since then the event has evolved into a yearly rehearsal of the “Drop, Cover and Hold On” technique, teaching Californians what to do during and after an earthquake. Participants are instructed to stop whatever they are doing at the appointed time to practise the technique, simulating what they should do in a real earthquake.
Reading this, I was struck by the parallels between risk management. Picture millions of people consciously striving for the same goal: minimising the risk of injury or death from a natural disaster. What a striking image for risk management professionals all seeking to protect their businesses from financial risk. What is the ShakeOut but an brilliantly executed enactment of a particular risk scenario?
So, what can we learn from this feat of organisation in an increasingly bumpy and risk-conscious economic environment? What can over 8 million people crouching under tables, beds, and assorted furniture teach us?
Leverage uncertainty and unpredictability to plan your risk management strategy. Capitalise on proactivity now.
- A focussed, organised approach leads to the most effective form of risk assessment. “Practice now to protect yourself in a real emergency” is the mantra of the ShakeOut drill. Your risk register may not be setting off any alarm bells at the moment, but a proactive approach is essential to be able to respond to future risk. And it works both ways, as a geophysicist said of the drill: "People that are not prepared for disaster are inviting disaster”. Without a truly proactive approach, risk management can easily escalate into a damage-limitation exercise.
- Maintain a consistent approach – “Drop, Cover and Hold On” remains the key message throughout the drill, despite the drill scenarios changing. Participants are advised to "drop, cover and hold on", whether they are in a school, an office, a bed, or a theatre. Similarly, always keep your risk priorities in sight as a fundamental best-practice. Crucially, having all of your risk data available in a centralised risk database with real-time visibility helps to prevent risk oversight.
- The collaborative power of people – in just 3 years the event has ballooned to 8.4 million participants. The success of the ShakeOut is its effectiveness and popularity to educate the masses. Such is the reach of the drill that other states and countries have adopted the practice including: British Columbia, Guam, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Chile, China, Japan and Mexico are also considering adopting their own drills. Be inclusive: harness the collaborative power of your organisation. Anything other than an organisation-wide risk management solution will greatly increase your potential risk exposure.
Lastly, a disclaimer: “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” is not a recommended approach to risk management!