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A New Way Of Mitigating Losses Resulting From Hazards or Disasters

Instead of Trying to Stop the Disaster, Try to Make it Worse

On May 19, 2011 I was reading a May 18, 2011 Wall Street Journal Article titled, Fresh Tales of Chaos Emerge From Early Hours of the Crisis. The article details the rapidly evolving nature of the nuclear reactor problems at Fukashima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. Many events were happening of which officials were unaware, and as a result they failed to anticipate steps they might have been able to take to lessen the eventual disaster.

About the same time, we were watching efforts to tame flooding of the Mississippi River, and read another Wall Street Journal article on mans efforts to tame the Mississippi. Most those efforts were large scale projects and have required other major fixes, which in turn require even more fixes into perpetuity.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico is yet another example. There were tell tale signs of problems before the explosion, corners had been cut, calls for help and evacuation were slow to be made, for many days the extent of the leakage was vastly underestimated. Problems were underestimated at almost every step.

In these large scale disasters, we envision legions of smart people trying to determine the best approach to stop the disaster, and others implementing their plans. Those in the planning room have years of experience and are familiar with the various classical approaches. But in those early hours when data is limited, events may still be happening of which they are unaware, the little data they have may be bad, gauges may be stuck, the equipment they plan to use may not work, and other unforeseen things may foil their plans. Yet they press on trying to stop the disaster.

Just like the line in Jurassic Park, “Life Finds a Way”, hazards find a way too. There is a reason they call are called hazards. Sooner or later they find a way out and cause problems. Last night (23 June 2011) I noticed a CNN story, “Officials Monitoring Rising Floodwaters at Nebraska Nuclear Plants” in which they describe how an 8 foot berm has been placed around the plant to keep out the rising Missouri River. Officials at the nuclear plant filed an “unusual event”, the lowest level of alert back on June 6th. They have been taking extra precautions and there seems to be no call for alarm. However, they note they have established a “floodwater rumor control” webpage and they did have an electrical fire on June 7th that knocked out cooling to the spent fuel storage pool for about 90 minutes. H’mm, Life Finds a Way, Nuclear Power Rods Find a Way?

We suggest those dealing with major disasters like the ones listed above consider putting just one or two of those smart people in room with several college students, some pizza, and refreshments in addition to keeping their classical disaster response team busy trying to solve the problem in another room. Tell the college students they are are the hazard (they are the nuclear material, they are the water in the river, they are the oil under the Gulf, they are the shark, etc.). Their goal is to cause as much havoc, death, and destruction as possible. College students are good at that. They will quickly begin looking for vulnerabilities they could exploit (like, hey let’s let the nuclear reactor guys keep thinking they have backup batteries to power the pumps after the generators were wiped out by the tsunami. Workers later discovered the backup batteries had been wiped out too.)

If you try using college students in real life, we suspect you will also quickly see the college students whipping out their cell phones to enlist the help of others as well. As they tap their networks, your team just multiplied many fold, as did your ability to contain the disaster.

Anyway, we think some college students assuming the identity of the hazard ( be the floodwaters, be the nuclear material, be the oil under the Gulf, be the volcano, etc) and encouraged to cause as much mayhem as possible could expose potential paths that classical thinking would not anticipate, especially in the early hours of a major disaster when traditional techniques may no longer apply because response teams to do not have all the data. During those early hours, unseen events often lead to major consequences. Being able to foresee those events, and either make sure they are not really happening OR quickly responding to them if they are could greatly minimize the final footprint of a major disaster.

The college students would need to be onsite, or have access to all the information so they could visually picture the surroundings as they searched for vulnerabilities. The couple members of your team you put with them, could explain anything the college students did not understand.

If you don’t want to use college students, you could just use part of the normal response team, but college students can probably think “outside the box” a lot better than your disaster response team. Plus they work cheap.

Some may refer to this process of “becoming the hazard” as gaming or role playing.


Be the Propeller

The following section may strike some as bizarre or even the sign of a sick mind, but it is an example of another way of looking at things that may present some insights into propeller accidents. If it offends anyone, we apologize. Please just stop reading and move on.

The same logic of becoming the hazard could be expanded to propeller accidents. Instead of thinking about the classical means of preventing propeller accidents (boating safety classes, propeller guards, don’t drink and boat, lanyard kill switches, keeping the boat under control, etc.) take on the mindset of being the propeller and trying to chop up as many people as you possibly can.

As you (Mr. Propeller) begin to look around, at first you begin searching for people already in the water (swimmers, tubers, wake boarders, skiers, floaters, etc). You are thinking, lets run over there and hit those people. Then you begin to think, lets throw some of these people out of my boat so I can hit them too. You look for boat wakes to hit, you try to encourage the boat operator to drink a few more beers, you throw in some pretty girls to distract the operator and a hot sun to numb his brain and glare the sun off the water to reduce his vision of other boats and obstacles. Pretty soon someone has been ejected and you have somebody in the water to hit.

Then you begin to see people in other boats and try to get your boat operator to run over their boat, or just hit them and eject more people to hit.

Hey look, that guy over there in the water wearing a life jacket. I bet he can’t dive deep enough to avoid me while he’s wearing that thing. Let’s go get him.

Lets start promoting some other activities that get people close to me like teak surfing, or wake surfing behind outboards.

We are running out of people, I am going to eject everybody from my boat, look the steering system just failed, the drive swung to one said and I am in the Circle of Death. I am going to get them all.

If I just nick them, maybe all the bacteria and germs in the water will infect them later? That way I can make their live even more miserable, especially if they have to undergo countless surgeries later on.

I lover muddy water and short boarding ladders. I’ll a few of those guys every time they try to board. I don’t even have to be turning. They can’t see me and when the boat rocks a little while they are boarding, I get them.

For sure, lets ban that Public Service Announcement video the Coast Guard had showing me chop up that guy floating behind the boat. If the public is looking over their shoulder, I wont be able to sneak up on them as easy.

I also hate lanyard kill switches. People fall out and my power gets shut off. What a bummer.

Lets get the boating industry to stick to its guns, Propeller Guards don’t work and they never will. I hope I never have to wear one of those things. I can’t imagine how boring that would be.

Anyway, you get the picture. Once you identify the vulnerabilities, especially the ones “outside the box” you can try to address them.

The “become the hazard” process is probably not as useful when applied to exposed propellers as it would be on other situations that were still evolving. However it might be applied to propellers used in less established areas (rescue boats, river warfare, airboats, parasailing, the new tractor type forward facing propeller drives) or in new boating activities as they come along.


Examples of Becoming the Hazard

We came up with a few examples in this area, but none that seemed like a perfect fit for what we are envisioning.

The Pentagon war games against teams of soldiers trained to represent the most likely opponents.

Football teams practice against a scout squad trained to represent the next opponent, but often they do not have the same speed, size, or strength they just run the same plays. Thus they are unable to exploit some of the vulnerabilities the real opponent (hazard) can when they run at full speed and full strength.

The Mr. Mayhem guy in the Allstate commercials is a bit of becoming the hazard. He seeks out ways to cause destruction.

While I do not play GTA (Grand Theft Auto) I understand the crime and mayhem may have some parallels to ideas presented here.

Disaster Drills try to test the skills of their staffs against mock disasters. But those selecting how to create the mock victims do not seem to be in mayhem mode.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) tries to send people carrying guns and other banned devices through real airline boarding processes to test the scanners ability to prevent them from boarding. However, it does not sound like they let them get very creative. They just put the device in a bag that is going through the scanner. The mock bad guys do not appear to be given a lot of lee way in their approach.

I suspect there are more examples. We will keep our eyes open. I briefly looked at some of the research and did not see anybody talking about this approach. If you are aware of any examples using this approach to disaster management or hazard management, please drop us a note via our Contact tab above. I am especially looking for any academic studies focusing on “becoming the hazard”.

The practice might also be extended to terrorism. You could hire some college students to be mock terrorists in your community and let them run loose a while. Then see what kind of plans they came up with and make sure you can defend against them. You just need to make sure they don’t get out of hand and go to far with implementing their plans.

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