Gordan Graham And True Risk Management

The Status Quo is gone..... Continual improvement has got to be the rule of life

Gordan Graham just makes sense. He has a knack for opening our eyes and connecting us with true reality. What do we really see? What is actually happening? And what should we do about it?


Graham champions safety and effectiveness in the public safety world; a place filled with constant complexity and chaos. In a recent Firehouse blog, he speaks on the topic of risk management at the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) Symposium.

He reminds us of the simple message that if it’s predictable, it’s preventable:

If we can identify the cause of the tragedy, perhaps we can put together control measures to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

He reveals that we are part of the problem:

The truth is we don’t know jack about risk management, he said of people who work for government public safety agencies. We get all worked up about the wrong things.

He explains that tragedies have multiple causes, including proximate cause, contributory cause, root causes and other problems lying in wait. Look at the root cause of the problem. Don’t just focus on the immediate or proximate cause. He said, “Everybody knows it was the iceberg that sank the Titanic, but was it the real cause?” We must look deeper.

Here are 7 rules of risk management that Graham suggests we follow:

  1. You must have a rising standard of quality over time and well beyond what is required by any minimum standard.
  2. People running complex systems should be highly capable.
  3. Supervisors have to face bad news when it comes and take problems to high level enough to fix those problems.
  4. You must have a healthy respect for the dangers and risk of your particular job.
  5. Training must be constant and rigorous.
  6. You must have a robust audit process to assure that what you say you are doing you are, in fact doing.
  7. The organization and members thereof must have the ability and willingness to learn from mistakes of the past.

Probably the most important areas in the fire service that we should put more focus on is the leader influence in dangerous contexts. As leaders, we must be adaptable and agile, able to balance high risk situations with low frequency operations. As Gordan Graham suggests, continual improvement by keeping our eyes on the real problems, then working together to solve them, is our rule of life.

Here are some Gordan Graham sources:

FIREHOUSE Blog by Ed Ballam: FDSOA Symposium: Graham Lectures on True Risk Managment

You Tube video featuring Gordan Graham on High Risk, Low Frequency Events