Monday, August 30, 2010

A note about ORM

Everything we do has risk. Deciding how much risk you want to take is a critical step in determining what you want to do, or what you can do. On Saturday we had a great discussion about the risk management process for NHS, which started as most around here, with "that sounds dangerous".

Operational Risk Management (ORM) is a term that makes most navy sailors and officers cringe, not because it implies prudence or the like, but because it means paperwork and death by powerpoint. However on a less beurocratic level, ORM is actually a part of daily life. Think of the last time you boarded the boat from the dock. You look at the dock, look at the boat, evaluate the chance of falling in or being injured, and step up. The boat rolls slightly and you hold onto a piling to brace yourself. You've just completed a full ORM process on the fly, and no powerpoint presentations were harmed in the execution of that action.

Of course, as someone takes on responsibility for more and more, the process takes longer and longer, and soemtimes requries you to write it all down. The coxswain, for instance, has to evaluate the skill of the crew, potential dangers that they might introduce to the environment, the material condition and strength of the boat, the condition of its equipment and appliances, winds, currents, weather conditions, visibility... is your head spinning yet?

This entire discussion about ORM is brought up because of one of the looming challenges that we've been discussion - getting underway through a heavy surf. The Monomoy is designed to land and get underway from a beach in some pretty rough conditions. She's lighter than most boats of her size, and double-ended to allow breaking surf to pass more easily around her, especially when landing. The steering oar gives a tremendous amount of control to the coxswain that he would not have with a rudder.

The risks involved are myriad and highly dangerous - the boat can be destroyed and the crew seriously injured or killed. If the action of the breaking waves forces catches the boat on her beam, it will likely roll her over. If the breaking waves poop the boat, she will not only take on a tremendous amount of water, but the resulting increase in weight and the suction created astern will cause her to loose way and be pushed violently under the wave. And of course, landing too hard can break her back, most likely resulting in the boat breaking up entirely around the bewildered crew. On the way out, the shallow water and high pitching of the bow in the breaking waves can force the stern down into the sand, where the action of the wave on the bow and resistance of the stern on the bottom can cause the boat to broach and roll, or worse, flip end over end. In any instance where the boat flips or even rolls heavily, the resulting confusion and chaos of oars and equipment flying about can not only injure the crew but distract them, causing loss of control.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Why would we ever want to try this? you might ask. The answer is simple - because we can. Because it puts a well-trained crew to the test, and allows them to better realize their potential. And in the process we can help keep alive the skills honed by sailors centuries ago, for whom these dangers, and mitigating them, were a part of daily life. And there is also the underlaying idea of what we would do if put into a dangerous situation such as this unexpectedly. Practicing for these dangerous evolutions makes us better sailors, and better sea warriors - who are more willing to push the envelope because they are more fully aware of the potential pitfalls. With proper consideration for each and every possible danger to the boat and her crew, and proper steps taken to lessen either the effect of the hazard and/or its liklihood, we can execute dangerous evolutions such as this, with reasonable probability of a positive outcome without incident.

And in case you scoffed at the use of the term 'sea-warriors' I should remind the reader that far and away most of NHS, myself included, are active-duty members in your US Navy or Marine Corps. We hunt the pirates - in real life. We fight the terrorists - in real life. And we are using all of this not only for fun - which it is - but to develop professionally beyond what tax dollars have provided, and in our spare time.


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