Saturday, March 31, 2012

Extreme risk management

In a recent article about a new report on Japan's nuclear accident following the tsunami, I read that "In the darkest moments of last year’s nuclear accident, Japanese leaders did not know the actual extent of damage at the plant and secretly considered the possibility of evacuating Tokyo, even as they tried to play down the risks in public, an independent investigation into the accident disclosed on Monday"

Fair enough. How could they know the full extent of the damage? Even those at the plant site did not really know, and what they knew was changing pretty quickly anyway. Managing public safety is not always done best in a public spotlight. I've got no problem with the secret considerations.

But here's what caught my eye: the confluence of competing risk attitudes, risk management agendas, and domains: business--meaning the plant owners and operators; project--meaning the on-site plant manager and the emergency team working the accident; and political--meaning the Japanese government, both the bureaucrats and the politicians.

In a confrontation between the plant project manager and the the plant owner, we learn that the owner did not want the plant destroyed in order to save it from further nuclear disaster.  Specifically, the owner did not want sea water pumped in for cooling. The project manager, in an act of disobedience out of order for the Japanese business culture, went ahead anyway. A mutiny of sorts.

But, if you've read the book or seen the movie of "The Caine Mutiny" (available at Amazon for streaming), or more recently "Crimson Tide", then you've seen two examples of mutiny at the tactical level that were a matter of extreme risk management, and that proved to be strategically correct calls.

And, then there is the business-political dimension. Apparently, the prime minister gets in the loop and engages with the plant owner. The plant owner is apparently under a rock somewhere. The reporter opines:
Prime Minister Kan had his minuses and he had his lapses,” ..... “but his decision to storm into Tepco and demand that it not give up saved Japan

That's pretty strong stuff! Politicians demanding that the business not give up and do their job. Wow! What a concept!

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