Sunday, September 13, 2015

Risky Business

I feel like I am trying to learn a new language based on a study of puns. 

Yes, that word is right, but it also means X.  And maybe Y.  And if you think about it this way, it also means Z.  Everything means something different from what you originally thought, and the opportunities for misunderstanding are legion.

It happened very suddenly.  A week ago - on Friday -  I missed a call.  My voicemail said, "Crorey, this is Sue.  I have an opening in the class you requested, but you need to respond immediately.  Give me a call and let's talk."

I was out roaming the streets with my cousin Jake (first time in New Orleans) and my uncle Richard (also his first visit) during Southern Decadence week.  Having a blast, but not paying particular attention to my phone messages.

During lunch, I called her back, and started a crazy ride where I am feeling equal parts exhiliration and terror.

The 'class' she referred to is a series of intense, graduate-level classes on risk analysis, risk management, and risk communication.  It is taught by one of the planning gurus in the field (Charlie Yoe literally wrote the book on planning for the Corps.  Twice.)  He has recently decided that the same approach needed to be taken towards risk.

So he started offering a graduate level seminar - a certification program - in risk.  It is run as an online class through Notre Dame Maryland University. And it is kicking my londonderry-aire.

ERM risk management framework.  Yeah, me, either.
The reading is voluminous, and involves approaches to the problem from so many different directions.  We are getting readings that talk about risk from the nuclear regulatory field, the private for-profit sector, from the food and drug administration, from EPA, from the United Kingdom and
New Zealand, and everywhere in between.

Everybody uses different terms.  Or if they use the same term, they use it to mean something else.  They structure their risk analysis differently, and they use different metrics to define it.

Risk has two elements: consequence (what happens) and probability (likelihood.)  For instance:
  • Asteroid crashing into the earth with a direct hit.  Consequence: catastrophic beyond all imagining.  Probability: not likely THIS year. 
  • Hitting a pothole with your car while driving in New Orleans.  Consequence: possible damage to frame.  Probable damage to alignment/shocks/tires.  Probability: almost certain, today.
The Corps is moving in the direction of making decisions under uncertainty, and as an agency we are ill-equipped for it.  When you deal with engineers, you know that precision and certainty are their comfort zones. Chaos? Uncertainty?  Risk?

Not so much.

So I am trying to figure out how to bring the risk-averse crew together with the risk-taking crowd.  And struggling to understand concepts that involve very messy vocabulary. 

Diving back into the studies now.  Have an assignment that I don't understand, based on readings that I can't figure out, and not enough time to write it all up.  It is exactly the kind of chaos that I thrive on.

Now, to figure out those puns....



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