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Make risk management a priority

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Many Air Force members are familiar with the concept of operational risk management. ORM is used to identify and mitigate risks associated with Air Force operations and statistics suggest it has been tremendously successful. Today's on-duty accidents rates are very low from a historical perspective.

Our off-duty accident rates are altogether another story, they are altogether too high.

Could some of the successful elements of ORM help us in our off-duty time? Absolutely!

AFI 90-901, Operational Risk Management, provides a detailed description of the ORM process, and even states Airmen should use ORM off-duty. Risk management generally follows the thought process of: identify, assess, mitigate and decide.

When employing risk management, units will identify hazards affecting the mission, assess the risks those hazards pose, determine methods of mitigating those risks and make decisions to reduce risk below the level deemed acceptable for the benefit of executing the operation.

In flying operations, for example, this might include such things as mission complexity, number of aircraft involved, weather, extreme temperatures, crew experience level, crew rest and threats posed by the enemy. This list is certainly not all inclusive, but it provides an idea of the types of things flying Airmen look at when managing risk during a mission.

Airmen continually assess if the risks they're assuming are worth the benefit for accepting them, but in some cases, there is no good way to mitigate certain risks. Deployed Airmen may have to accept elevated risk from time to time in order to accomplish the mission. The benefit of accomplishing the mission, such as supporting ground troops, outweighs the remaining risk.

At home station, there is usually not enough benefit to be gained on any individual sortie or operation to warrant accepting significant risk.

The same thought process should also be applied to off-duty risk management. Identify your planned mission whether it be boating, motorcycling, traveling or another activity.

Let's say you're a new boat owner with limited experience. That popular boating and swimming location may beckon, but until you become proficient at operating your new craft, a less congested area might be the better choice.

What are the risks? How can you mitigate those risks? Following ORM all the way through your activity will help reduce your risks of accident or injury.

Motorcycling is another enjoyable but dangerous hobby. The risks have been well-communicated throughout the Air Force, yet we continue to have far too many injuries and fatalities. Still, the specific risks vary somewhat by the individual and environmental conditions.

Are you a new rider planning to ride with an experienced group? Are the roads wet? Is it nighttime? Again, identifying and mitigating the risks is a prudent course of action. If you can't reduce the risks enough, changing your plans may be in order.

Travel is one more area to touch upon in the application of risk management. Many of us feel so at home in our vehicles we forget that every driver is riding around in a 4,000-pound weapon at 65 mph.

Travel risks vary and might include weather, road conditions, fatigue, vehicle condition and time available versus time required to travel safety.

Not every risk can be mitigated significantly, but even simply identifying the risks will make you more aware of them and more apt to use caution in the risk areas you identified.

One final area that can affect every activity bears mentioning; alcohol consumption. The potential risks include hurting or killing yourself or someone else, driving under the influence, disorderly conduct and presenting a poor image of the Air Force. Other than choosing not to drink, the most successful mitigation technique is to have a plan.

A proven part of an effective plan for those going out to drink is to have a dependable non-drinking wingman who can keep you from doing a variety of dumb things, such as drinking and driving or boating, being a public nuisance, or making yourself a vulnerable target for crime. On duty and off, wingmen are heroes.

Making risk management part of your daily life need not "take all the fun out" of leisure-time activities. On the contrary, practicing effective risk management techniques actually help us achieve the good time we intended--safely.