I’ve sat through hundreds of navigation briefs as various control stations explain to the Captain and crew their role in safely taking a ship sea. Likewise I’ve sat through almost as many replenishment at sea briefs. Both have a significant component of risk management, so much so that operational risk management “ORM” is so embedded in our culture that its become commonplace and we have become complacent.
In those navigation or replenishment briefs there is an approved and lauded solution, typically provided by the local Afloat Training Group. And it’s fine. It just doesn’t do anything more than meet the criteria that ORM has been addressed.
But if all that’s being done is a “check in the block” is ORM really being addressed?
A new paper from SRA brings forward 5 areas that lead to complacency. 5 “Neglects” in risk management.
1. Probability neglect – people sometimes don’t consider the probability of the occurrence of an outcome, but focus on the consequences only.
2. Consequence neglect – just like probability neglect, sometimes individuals neglect the magnitude of outcomes.
3. Statistical neglect – instead of subjectively assessing small probabilities and continuously updating them, people choose to use rules-of-thumb (if any heuristics), which can introduce systematic biases in their decisions.
4. Solution neglect – choosing an optimal solution is not possible when one fails to consider all of the solutions.
5. External risk neglect – in making decisions, individuals or groups often consider the cost/benefits of decisions only for themselves, without including externalities, sometimes leading to significant negative outcomes for others.
Where do these fit within the subject of navigation or replenishment briefs?
Probability neglect: Every brief speaks of grounding or collision and they do so because of the consequence, not the probability. That means that precious time is spent talking about things that are very unlikely to occur. There is an opportunity cost there.
Consequence neglect: Honestly, this is something Navy writ large does well. To the point that we overemphasize the consequence and oversimplify the solution path.
Statistical neglect: The Surface’s Navy’s slavish devotion to Cold War stand off ranges is probably the single best ORM example for statistical neglect, even if it is outside the normal navigation or replenishment detail. Ships can, and do, pass safely within 500 yards of each other. Why then do so many Commanding Officers insist on being contacted about every ship that will pass within 10,000 or in some cases 20,000 yards?
Solution neglect: This one is simple. All to often we take solutions off the table before we even get a chance to start framing the problem. This is most often found on ships that are mono-decisional – those that only say “yes” or only say “no”. Not every person needs to be onboard for every underway period. Not every person needs to be on the lines for every replenishment. But sometimes someone does need to get underway and miss something at home. Simple examples, but what other ways do we rig the ORM game by ignoring a potential solution? Or, does Ops, who had CDO and had to deal with some messy issue, really need to stand Officer of the Deck? Changing the watchbill might be the right thing to do – even if it is at the last minute. Routinely changing the watchbill at the last minute? That’s something else.
External risk neglect: Again, not an easy fit to the “check in the block” navigational or replenishment detail but a Navy issue all the same. Moving a person or part from one ship to another for an underway period or an inspection. Forgetting to notify local officials that you are getting underway from a liberty port – or forgetting to ask the pilot what ships are coming in or out that day.
By sticking with the canned ORM we are hurting future generations or surface warfare officers by subjugating their original and creative thinking to a “just get it done” mentality. Navigators, when you plan your next brief think about these things for ORM:
When was the last time the ship got underway? What did we do right? What did we do wrong? Have we done that wrong thing before? Why?
What’s the weather predicted and how will that change the ORM slides? Low visibility increases the risk of grounding or collision – if a ship has difficulty with electronic navigation. Bad weather can certainly slow the transit speed down. How does that impact your knowledge of traffic in the channel?
Who’s new to the ship? What distractions are there that can get in the way of a safe and focused detail? These things are mentioned in the brief…but never seem to make it into the ORM section.
What other realistic and likley problems are there that ships will encounter every day that can and all to often do lead to accidents? And why aren’t those being addressed during ORM discussions?
If ORM remains a check in the block for an inspection, we will see more, not less, mishaps in coming years.