You cannot mitigate your risks in hindsight

On the one year anniversary of the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the greatest Winter Olympic Games of all time, emails have been released disclosing concerns about the luge track that claimed the life of the 21-year old Georgian on the eve of the Games.

A year ago, I asked whether the risk management treatments which we implement were influenced by the emotion, timing and severity of the event. Are proactive treatments the same as those we take after someone dies? At the time it appeared as if the “stupid fast” corner where he died was an unidentified risk because organizers didn’t mitigate the risk until after the accident. However, emails written prior to the Games show that Olympic organizers were aware of the risks but chose to “Accept” the risk rather than “Mitigate” it.

If Organizers had sat down to formally measure the impact and likelihood of this risk, their assessment likely have reflected the comments made by Canadian gold medalist (in skeleton), Jon Montgomery, “As far as I am concerned, as far as a lot of my sliding compatriots are concerned, it is an absolutely freak accident that should, and probably will, never happen again.” Based on that quote, a fictional Olympic CRO would have placed the luge risk “bubble” in a corner: Impact = Catastrophic, and Likelihood = Unlikely.

Hindsight is a bitch. But it’s not fair to look back and say, they should have treated the risk differently. Unfortunately, managers often don’t choose to treat a risk until after it becomes an event or as in this situation, when someone dies.

I’ve said it before that I would rather know I have 100 risks which I am accepting or mitigating than think I have no risks at all and doing nothing about; having a risk management process is still better than the alternative. In the case of the Olympics, it appears that they knew the risk was there and chose to Accept it which is slightly better than not knowing the risk was there at all, despite the outcome.

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