Japan Redux: You can lead a Board to Water, but you can’t make them Drink

MP900400964 It's been roughly two weeks since the devastating events in Japan.  As I mentioned in my initial post regarding their disaster-recovery efforts, we weren't going to know all of the elements we needed to know at that time in order to make an assessment – and we don't know them now.  On the other hand, we know enough to put them under a magnifying glass.  If you're part of a disaster-preparedness team, a cursory examination of their nuclear mess is a true 'teachable moment'.

Why do I keep harping on this?  Because litigation may take on all of the elements of a disaster-recovery operation in that out of nowhere, you're tasked with finding, restoring and producing massive quantities of information – possibly from several sources and/or geographic locations.  And, somebody has to pay for it (Zubulake, Toshiba, et al).  Oh, and tic-toc – the clock is ticking…

Let me preface this by saying that armchair quarterbacking is easy – and this is not a 'bash Japan' post.  You don't kick someone when they're down (but you do try to learn from their mistakes).  Nor is it an "I told you so" post – at least, not by me.  Let's be honest, for a moment.  Sometimes, when a person says "I told you so", they really did tell you so.  So what?  The issue isn't what they told you, the issues are:

  1. Did they tell you something of substance?
  2. Did they provide facts & figures to support it?
  3. Were they qualified to make the assessment? (i.e. on what basis should you rely on their opinion?)
  4. Was it relevant to the concerns at hand?
  5. If you answered 'yes' to one through four, did you give their information careful, deliberative and proper consideration?
  6. Did you solicit, collect and examine supporting and/or dissenting viewpoints to confirm/contradict the opinion?
  7. Was a 'Cost vs. Benefit' analysis performed?
  8. Did you adopt all (or some) of their recommendations?
  9. Why?
  10. Did you dismiss all (or some) of their recommendations?
  11. Why?
  12. Have you properly assessed every possible risk?
  13. Are you qualified to answer question #12, and if not, what other sources should you consult? ("Know what you don't know")
  14. What is the timetable to re-convene in order to re-assess the situation and modify the plan, if necessary?

[Add your own questions here]

What are questions nine and eleven about?  You should always be prepared to justify and/or defend your position.  After all, you may have to persuade your bosses today, but you never know who you might have to persuade tomorrow (I'm thinking…a judge?  A jury?)

Last night I read this article from the Washington Post (and others over the past few days) regarding how the Japanese authorities considered risk when assessing how to protect their nuclear plants.  In my opinion, if you commit to the short amount of time necessary to read the entire story, you'll learn more about disaster-preparedness than you ever could in a classroom; unless, of course, they're studying this disaster.

In an island nation, surrounded by volcanic activity, "experts" didn't even consider a major tsunami as part of the plan for the Fukushima Daiichi power plant because it was considered "unlikely".  But, here's an even better question, raised at the conclusion of the story:

"To what degree must regulators design expensive safeguards against once-a-millennium disasters, particularly as researchers learn more about the world’s rarest ancient catastrophes?"

Which leads me to the obvious follow-up:

  1. If a catastrophe occurs superior to our level of protection, what will be the likely result?
  2. Was this factored into our 'Cost vs. Benefit' analysis?

Two weeks ago, the experts may have thought that the risks were worth it.  But now that radiation is showing up in drinking water as far away as Tokyo?  My guess is, they wish they'd have built the retaining walls a few feet higher.

"Nobody anticipated…"