2 min read

Risk Management, Prioritization, and Poetry (?)

Just as you expect from your community safety blog post, today starts with a poem from the American author Mary Oliver (Hey, it's Friday, right?). We stole this from Wanda Holland Greene, one of our most inspiring Heads of School at The Hamlin School for Girls. It's called "I Worried", and it artfully illustrates some of the Joffe perspective on risk management. It's also beautiful. We'll discuss below, so stick around!

"I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn

as it was taught, and if not how shall

I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,


Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up. And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang."

When we first begin working with a school, the challenge in risk management is one of prioritizing. By its very nature, it can be overwhelming, because risks can and do come from every direction. Where does it make sense to invest your time, energy, and anxiety? Tornadoes? Earthquakes? Fracking? That causes earthquakes, too. Or does it? (The short and complicated answer is "occasionally.")

Of course, there are a variety of factors, many specific to your school, that go into determining what risks are most pressing. One way we help schools make the prioritization process more manageable is math (don't leave!). On a 1 to 5 scale, rate a potential safety issue both on the likelihood that it will occur and the severity of the consequences if it did. Multiply the two numbers. So, if an event were almost certain to occur (scoring a 5) and would have a moderate impact if it did (scoring a 3), you get a score of 15. The general rule of thumb is that anything over a 5 deserves serious attention. Obviously, you'd start by tackling the issues with the highest number.

Once you've targeted some areas of risk that need to be improved, we shift from risk management to risk control. Risk control might take the form of:

  • Elimination- Removing a hazard or risk area. For example, you might install security cameras to remove a blind spot on campus.
  • Substitution- Replacing safety practices, procedures, or equipment with something that decreases your school's risk. This might take the form of an improved visitor management system.
  • Administration- This is one of Joffe's strengths, if we do say so ourselves. Administrative risk control is when safe operating procedures are in place, backed up by effective training and monitoring. Our guided and purposeful PD training allows for schools to utilize their greatest safety resource - the people on campus.

Simply put, managing your school's risk is critical because it allows you to continue the powerful and incredible work you do for your community. That work is too important to slip away just because no one knows what they're supposed to do in a crisis.

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