On October 13, the eyes of the world focused on a remote site in Chile where a group of miners finally began returning to the surface of the earth after 69 days of being confined underground due to a cave in.  It was a feel good moment that took our minds off the economy, negative campaigning, unemployment, and a host of other things to savor the moment.

A major part of the success of the operation goes to the careful assessment of various alternatives and the risks and rewards that were associated with each of the various options.  Even more important was the number and various disciplines the Chilean Government called on to assure a successful operation.    According to an article published in Business Insurance October 18, a wide variety of experts were called in to examine all aspects of the situation.  Experts from the insurance industry, NASA, the Chilean Submarine service, psychologists, nutritionists, engineers, and Doctors spent a considerable amount of time methodically reviewing the problem, and solutions.  The risk analysis continued on through the entire event and were not afraid to take the additional time to make sure the outcome was successful.

The article quotes Lane Bos, senior risk engineer and mining industry practice leader for Zurich  who indicated the planners “developed procedures and followed those procedures”.   The process was completed on the fly, but the key point here was they took the time to develop and then follow the procedures, continuously assessing the risk/reward for the action throughout the process.

Human beings are programed to react in certain ways when an event occurs that scares the heck out of us.  Our primal DNA coding pushes adrenaline, shuts down non essential body functions, and drives the mind to find a solution (have I experienced this type of a situation before?  What did I do and how did it work?  Please let me find the right solution before something bad happens!).  

I believe this is why we are so good a firefighting.  Fix it and store in the back of our minds in case we need it again quickly. 

In developing a risk management or business continuity/disaster recovery plan, you cannot plan for all types of emergencies.  In many cases you move from the 50 foot level to a 500 foot level for a base line and then provide alternatives for various scenarios (as an example evacuating the building as the base level, and different meeting points or exit strategies for fire, flood, gas leaks, tornado,etc.).   In developing the base line concept you also are adding to your experience and becoming familiar with the risk analysis process you develop the tools that help when the unexpected comes up. 

While the excellent article on the benefits of quality risk analysis is not currently available on Business Insurance, there is another excellent article on how Chile tapped NASA for assistance which is well worth the read and provides some insight into the thought process from an earlier time. 

An additional interesting PBS show from Nova chronicles the rescue and looks at some of the physical and psychological effects that helped these miners survive.  click here for further information and a preview of the show.