Early Warner of Risks Are Rarely Taken Seriously

Early Warners of Risks Are Rarely Taken SeriouslyProject risks are often ignored. But this is not only the case with projects. On 11 March 2011, an earthquake and a tsunami struck Japan. At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a triple core meltdown occurred. More than six years after the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan, former top managers of the nuclear power plant operator Tepco stood before a criminal court for the first time. They were accused of having ignored the danger of a huge tsunami and thus of being to blame for the Super Gau of March 2011. In September 2019, the top managers were acquitted. Read on and find out why.

Internal Warnings Were Ignored

The nuclear disaster in Fukushima in Japan in 2011 is of course not an isolated case when it comes to ignoring risks. The same applies to project risks. Why are these often ignored, even though attentive project team members had warned of them for a long time?

“It was impossible to predict the accident,” the plant managers claimed in court. “A tsunami of this magnitude could not have been expected”. At the same time, they must have been aware of the expert reports that warned the Japanese nuclear industry of such earthquakes and killer tsunamis.

Katsuhiko Ishibashi of Kobe University has predicted the course of the current nuclear disaster in Fukushima. “An earthquake and its consequences, i.e. a tsunami, could destroy several parts of a nuclear power plant. This would make it impossible to cool the reactor. The fuel rods begin to melt. This could lead to a core meltdown or even a nuclear explosion. Hydrogen explosions would also be possible,” the professor warned a parliamentary commission in February 2005. In addition, aid to earthquake victims could be hampered by radioactive contamination. This is exactly what happened in Fukushima!

The core meltdown in three reactors was a work of “higher powers”.

A Network of Relations Between the State and the Nuclear Lobby

It was a “human disaster”. This is due to the network of relations between the state and the nuclear lobby. In July 2017, a court found that the state was also guilty. The state and the nuclear power plant operator Tepco were guilty of negligence. Tepco should have been obliged to take precautions against tsunamis.

In September 2019, the Tokyo District Court unexpectedly acquitted the former heads of the energy group Tepco. Nobody is to blame for one of the biggest nuclear accidents in history. The core meltdown in three reactors of the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011 was a work of “higher powers”. The accusation was, that the operator Tepco should have known that reactors on the coast of the earthquake country Japan are exposed to special risks due to giant waves. The court says you can’t know that. It even says that a nuclear power plant operator cannot be expected to foresee every whim of nature.

The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

On September 18, 2015, it was publicly announced that Volkswagen AG had used an illegal shutdown device in the engine management system of its diesel vehicles; the US emission standards were only met in a special test bench mode, whereas in normal operation a large part of the exhaust gas purification system is largely shut down. To promote sales and increase the market share of diesel passenger cars in the USA, VW had previously advertised this generation of vehicles as particularly clean “clean diesel” in large advertising campaigns.

In the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” of 27 July 2017 the following report appeared: Audi was already afraid of being exposed in 2013. Audi technicians pointed out the exhaust gas manipulation in the USA back in October 2013. This is shown by an internal document. In it, they warn against the consequences of being exposed and even recommend that the manipulation software be changed over promptly. But that didn’t happen.

The Early Warner are Rarely Taken Seriously

It is not uncommon for early warners to be badmouthed, mocked and declared crazy. Something like this will never happen, absolutely impossible! And if these deniers / rejects then suddenly wake up and realize that it was not nonsense and it really happens, then you panic. We humans are unfortunately so wired that we ignore and deny potential problems until we are directly confronted with them. Only then is it usually too late to act meaningfully.

Note the Early Warner!

With your project, the potential damage may not be as great as with the Fukshima nuclear power plant, but you should still notice the Warner warning of incredible, almost impossible, potential project problems. Laughing at them or looking at them as crackpots is certainly the wrong strategy. Include these risks in your risk analysis and discuss them as long as they are not too utopian. Risks such as “a menhir could fall on our head” can be safely omitted, because only Asterix readers understand that anyway!

Already discussing such risks sensitizes the participants and often gives them an impulse to think further in order to find new or similar, or more “realistic” risks.

Why are certain risks not accepted or ignored?

Did you hear the following when you were identifying risks?

  • “This risk is so impossible, just forget it!”
  • “If we write this risk down, we will have problems with our management.”
  • “With this risk on our list, we make a fool of ourselves.”
  • “If we put this risk on the list, we can quickly cancel our project.”

Often unpleasant or “unlikely” risks are identified and simply not followed up or removed from lists. Reasons for this are:

  • Political or personal interests
  • Pressure from management
  • profit maximization
  • Fear that the project will be stopped
  • Because you just can’t imagine this could happen.
  • Arrogance (such a thing does not happen to us!)

This was the case e.g. with the Fukushima Nuclear Desaster, the crash of the Challenger space shuttle, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal.

Such a thing does not happen to us!

Project-Risk-Management-Book-CoverWhat experience have you had with unlikely or rejected risks? How do you deal with them in risk management? Do you agree or disagree with my statements? Share your experience with a commentary so that we can all get to know another point of view. Thank you!

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