Risk mitigation. Sounds fancy but all it means is “what are the most viable threats and what actions I can take to reduce the threats.” In this article, I am going to discuss risk mitigation strategies and provide practical examples of how this linear thought process can be used by the prepper in how they plan, provision, and train for WTSHTF. Risk mitigation differs from contingency planning by asking what can I do before a critical incident happens, versus what can I do after it happens.
A major aspect of continuity planning for large organizations (government, business, academia, health care, etc.) is examining potential threats, identifying vulnerabilities, and taking actions to reduce adverse results. Commonly known as risk mitigation, there are four general strategies
- Risk Acceptance: recognizing the risk as manageable
- Risk Avoidance: recognizing the risk as dangerous
- Risk Limitation: recognizing the risk is both manageable and dangerous
- Risk Transference: recognizing the risk is better assumed by other parties with proper skills or expertise.
In simplest terms, risk mitigation is the process of narrowing down what are the most likely threats to my safety and what information should I be focusing on, what should I be spending money on, and what skills do I need to obtain. With all that’s occurring right now in this crazy world, sometimes prepping is like drinking from a fire hose. Risk mitigation clarifies and illuminates and filters the real and imminent threats from the less real and more unlikely threats.
First Hand Experience
As a 27-year veteran of law enforcement, I often employed risk management in daily enforcement operations. If an investigation identified a business was involved in illegal activity, and probable cause existed for execution of a search warrant, prior to actual service of the warrant the person with tactical oversight undertook a process to identify risks and plan accordingly. For example, if the business were a chop shop for stolen cars with two aggressive Doberman pinchers guarding the building and fenced lot, the risk mitigation process would evaluate the level of danger and plan accordingly. In this example, the process would recognize the dogs present a clear risk of physical harm to officers executing the warrant, the result of no action could be officers getting bite, and the smartest course of action would be to have animal control officers present to control and contain the dogs at the beginning of the enforcement operation.
To parse this out a bit further, in this example, risk limitation identified the risk as both manageable and dangerous, and risk transference engaged the use of experts to reduce adverse outcomes.
Risk Mitigation and Prepping
First, identify potential WTSHTF situations and rank accordingly using available facts and information. Let’s consider (in no particular order of importance or risk) the following potential critical situations:
- Solar flare incident
- Yellowstone Erupting
- Political Unrest/Civil War
- Food Supply collapse
- Economic collapse
- Global Thermonuclear War
- Isolated Nuclear Exchange
- Foreign Army Invasion
- Power grid collapse
- Extreme weather event
- Zombie apocalypse
Now, begin a risk mitigation exercise for these situations and utilize due diligence in research and planning.
Let’s start with solar flares:
Open source Internet information has identified recent solar flare activity:
Solar Tsunami and CME | Spaceweather.com (spaceweatherarchive.com)
Additional reporting is identifying a 1.6% to 12% chance of a solar superstorm which could knock out the power grid and Internet:
Why America Should Suddenly Prepare For A Billion-Dollar ‘Internet Apocalypse’ Caused By The Sun (forbes.com)
Let’s compare this to Yellowstone erupting:
Is Yellowstone overdue for an eruption? When will Yellowstone erupt? (usgs.gov)
“The math doesn’t work out for the volcano to be “overdue for an eruption. In terms of large explosions, Yellowstone has experienced three at 2.08, 1.3, and 0.631 million years ago. This comes out to an average of about 725,000 years between eruptions. That being the case, there is still about 100,000 years to go”
Are both events possible? Yes, but one is more likely than the other, based on today’s known information. In this model, since a coronal mass ejection is identified as a greater risk than the Yellowstone caldera blowing its’ top, we now can focus on the particular threats of a solar storm, where the following are possible:
-Geomagnetic induced currents would interrupt Internet networks and oil and gas pipelines.
-Power grids would be completely inoperable during a solar event
-Satellite communications would be at risk from the supercharged particles.
-Submarine cables connecting North America to Europe would likely collapse under a Carrington event.
Now the threat has been identified in specific terms, risk acceptance clarifies by examining what can the prepper do before a solar storm actually occurs. Examples include:
- The ability to communicate during the internet/power/cellular grid-down period of time (ham radios, hand-crank radios, short wave radios, batteries, antennas, licenses, and experience in using prior to the event).
- The ability to produce independent power for an extended period of time (generators, solar panels, etc).
- The ability to pay for goods and services when banking systems are off-line (gold and silver, cash, durable goods, unique skills like engine repair or carpentry).
Let’s do another mental exercise. Which is more likely to occur in the foreseeable future- political unrest or a zombie apocalypse?
The dynamics continue to tilt towards the increasing chances of civil war, do they not? I’m going to keep this non-political and simply identify some basic societal stressors at play right now: 700,000 dead from a pandemic, supply chain fracturing, shrinking labor pool, increasing violent crime, political tribalism, mistrust in government, mistrust in election outcomes, and oh yeah let’s not forget we have 430 million guns floating around, not all of them in the hands of reasonable people with good intentions.
On the other hand, I’ll be the first to admit being highly skeptical that a zombie apocalypse is a viable threat to consider and prepare for, but if it’s not, then why is our own government providing risk management advice on what to do during a zombie apocalypse, including:
- making an emergency kit containing water, food, medications, tools, sanitation and hygiene, clothing and bedding, identification and documents, and first aid supplies.
- making an emergency plan to include identifying other potential emergencies (also known as risk mitigation), picking a meeting place for your family if zombies do invade, identifying local emergency contacts like police and zombie hunting teams, and planning an emergency route to escape the flesh eaters.
(If you think I’m making this up, I’m not. The only thing the CDC zombie apocalypse advisory didn’t cover was best zombie defensive rounds, which in my case will be twelve-gauge slugs for close-quarter combat and .30-06 for undead corpses roaming out of shotgun range.
Let’s wrap this discussion up with one final risk mitigation exercise: global nuclear war or isolated thermonuclear attack.
As a Gen Xer who came of age during the Cold War, I have many fond memories of preparing for Global Thermonuclear War. We were quite concerned about a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. I can remember frequent exercises at my elementary school, readying us for when the missiles were in flight, such as hurrying to crawl under our desks or quickly scrambling the class down to the school basement. The possibility of nuclear war was a frequent news topic and movie storyline. Rock bands even wrote songs about nuclear war. My father was an old-school prepper before the term existed… I can still recall the stash of cans of powdered peanut butter in our basement and the Geiger counter always at the ready. Kids today never hear about the dangers of the Cold War or how close the world came on several occasions to a nuclear missile exchange. The reality is the threat may have diminished slightly for a short time with Russia and has only since grown with China, Iran, and North Korea.
Through the risk mitigation process, I’ve come to the conclusion that full-out nuclear exchange between the United States and a large arsenal is not practical for me to prepare for. I live too close to a large city to escape the impacts of numerous missiles, I don’t have the resources to build an underground bunker below my house, and I agree with the experts who predict a total collapse of food production due to millions of tons of dust in the atmosphere. If all the arrows around the world get released from their quivers, most of us reading this will be bones and ash half an hour after launch command.
A more preparable scenario, at least from the risk mitigation position, is a limited exchange, where only a handful of missiles (God forbid, by the way) hit their targets. A useful tool in this scenario is the Nukemap website. I input the location of the most likely target in my area, chose the Tsar bomb for the yield, and compared the fireball radius, the blast radius, the thermal radius, and the light damage radius to where I live. Luckily, I’m far enough away from the nearest target city to miss the fireball and heavy blast. Most likely, it’ll be broken windows and radioactive dust in my area. That I can deal with in the short term, and prepare for (as a result of this particular risk acceptance exercise, I visited my nearest home improvement store and bought rolls of visqueen plastic and sheets of particle board.)
Rudyard Kipling once wrote: “A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition.” True words indeed, but unfortunately prepping for the broad range of potential world enders isn’t so easy. Applying risk management strategies can help in narrowing the focus by identifying the greater threats and smartest risk acceptance approaches for you and your family, whether it be for civil unrest, zombies emerging from the grave, or a limited nuclear attack.