A lot of our most worrisome, current-day risks were not on our radar screens a decade ago. It was unthinkable that we would have to respond to a pandemic threat like Ebola or avian flu and that those risks, which originate far away from our shores, could pose a threat to public entities all across America. Really?
Think about some of the other “unknown” risks from the last two decades: the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, the world economic crisis and the volcano that shut down air traffic around the world. For all of these events, what made them huge was an unthinkable combination of hazards compounded by our lack of preparedness and (mostly) inadequate response.
Were these risks really unknown or unimaginable?
Not so much. We know now that there were national security experts, doctors and epidemiologists, economists and geologists who knew about these uncertainties and who understood the risks that the rest of us failed to see. And these are not just random global occurrences. All of these risks could directly affected public sector operations in the United States
So if the risks are known by someone, somewhere – how do risk managers deal with that?
I think risk managers must be challenged to think beyond the data of the past and figure out how to incorporate more voices and new ideas into the process of identifying and describing the risks facing our public entities. We need to seek the unknown (to us) because it is known by someone. It’s not that we’re facing an abyss of unknowable proportion. Someone has already seen the deep hole, and they might even have suggestions about how to avoid it. We just need to listen.
What do you think risk managers should address in their entity's "portfolio of risk?" Who should we be listening to and how could we effectively consider risks that are beyond our direct control?