It’s Time to Address the Real Risks

By Doug Griffiths, Community Builder

What kinds of risk does your community face? I bet your first thought went to assessing the likelihood of a flood, a fire, or a tornado hitting your community. Those disasters certainly do get our attention, but the greatest risks our communities face are often ignored. I also bet when you thought about the risk associated with those events you thought almost exclusively about the likelihood of them occurring. The process of measuring and mitigating risk should include more than simply calculating the odds one of them will occur. To properly calculate risk, you must also factor in the damage caused by the event.

For instance, let’s consider the risk associated with your vehicle breaking down. If you own a vehicle prone to breakdowns, the likelihood of a breakdown may be high; however, that alone doesn’t measure the risk associated with a breakdown. The consequences must also form part of your risk evaluation. If the weather is warm and you typically aren’t too far from home, the consequences of breaking down may merely be a nice walk. That’s not a particularly risky situation. However, if you live in a very cold climate and drive long distances, the risk is much higher, since a vehicle breakdown in freezing weather a long way from home could mean the difference between life and death.

Say the word “terrorism” these days and people look afraid. Threat of terrorism is used to successfully drive all sorts of agendas, but where does terrorism rank in the profile of risks? You are 35,000 times more likely to die of heart disease than die in a terrorist attack. You are 20,000 times more likely to die from being fat than to die in a terrorist attack. You are almost 5,000 times more likely to die from drinking alcohol than die from a terrorist attack.

The point here is not to belittle the threat potential of terrorism, but to merely point out that we often spend a lot more time focusing on sensational but rare risks, rather than those risks which are much more likely and equally deadly. The same applies to the threats faced by communities. The greatest risks our communities face are being ignored because they are not attention grabbing and because they require real effort to fix, yet the likelihood of them occurring and the consequences that would result can mean the end of a community.

It is so easy to invest community dollars in a new recreation center. People want more services. They have higher expectations of what will be provided in the community in which they live. A large new building full of new amenities sends a message that the community is doing well, it is growing, and it is prosperous. It can attract new businesses and families, and it can attract investment. I am fully in support of provocative investments such as those. However, too many communities are ignoring their underground infrastructure, which can put the community in great peril.

It is easy to ignore what is underground. It is out of sight and out of the public’s mind. In fact, I bet most of the public these days have little idea how water gets to them, and where the sewage goes. Servicing that infrastructure gets civic leaders few points with the public, and can often garner a lot of headaches as the public complains about the major road construction needed to fix the plumbing underneath. The water, both the quality and the quantity, is critical to the survival of our community. We don’t need to search hard to find communities that have suffered severe, life threatening consequences from neglecting their unseen infrastructure.

There are many risks right before our eyes. Is your community one whose economy is based on one major employer or industry? Have you considered the risk to your community of not trying to diversify or grow your economy? It might seem like a daunting task, but isn’t it worth trying something? Is your community considering the enormous impacts technology will have on your community and how you can not only prepare for it, but take advantage of it? There are so many risks that our communities face, which are going completely unaddressed, because they don’t make headlines and they aren’t easy to deal with. However, not addressing them puts your community at risk. It’s time to address those risks head on.

We know it is hard to decide what risks to address first. It is hard to quantify the likelihood and consequences of an event, and make those tough choices about what to do. It becomes so complex and challenging that it feels impossible to communicate those critical decisions to the public. The success, indeed the very survival, of your community requires an honest risk assessment. It is important to ensure choices and decisions benefit the community in the long run, not just the next political run. If you need help just give us a call – we know, There’s Always A Way.