Risks, Emergencies and Good Management

Editorial – Summer WCW Magazine

Bill Brant, Editor, Western Canada Water

For the second issue of our 20th year of publication, we focus on Risk and Emergency Management. The best defence to prevent an emergent situation from becoming a crisis is to be prepared with good management plans. I’m going to take some editorial licence to focus on a slightly different aspect of managing risks.

I’ll rant on an issue that comes to mind each year as we approach September: conference attendance. There aren’t many events in western Canada that offer water professionals the opportunities to attend high quality technical presentations, network with hundreds of colleagues, participate in water-related social events and get first-hand information on available products and services in a first-class trade show. The best such event is the annual WCW Conference. I believe most of our members would love to be there, but only a few hundred make the trip. Why?

Lack of employer support is the main reason. So why don’t senior managers at municipal utilities, consulting firms, regulatory agencies and contractors wholeheartedly support the attendance of their staff? Two words: short-sightedness. Two more words: questionable management. Why? First, let’s acknowledge what we are: water professionals. Professionals have an obligation to serve the public interest. To do so, we need to be knowledgeable and well educated, not just when we complete our formal education, but throughout our working lives. Continuing education and on-going competence do not come out of your cereal box at breakfast. Nor does it come only from self-study, reading technical journals, watching training videos or on-line distance education courses. These are all useful, but they do not replace getting face-to-face with colleagues whom you know and meeting new ones whom you did not know.

And the usual excuse for not supporting conference attendance? “Too expensive! Registration fees, travel costs, hotel bills, airfare and wages without productive work back in the home community!” But how costly is it when a community faces a crisis because its operating team doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise to address the risks and emergencies that arise, nowadays more frequently than ever? You can hire external expertise to help prepare, but having a knowledgeable local team is still important.

Consultants must stay well informed because engineers and scientists are not paid because they know how to use a wrench. They are paid for their expertise, and that can only be maintained with continuing education, which is enhanced and kept current by conference attendance.

And regulators? If their knowledge isn’t at the cutting edge, how can they legitimately enforce regulations, review engineering designs, issue permits and approvals? Yes, there are occasional local seminars and workshops, but we don’t see that many in a relatively thinly populated region such as ours. Besides, local events typically have a narrow focus, falling far short of the variety of knowledge and experience, which is on offer at a major regional event like the WCW Conference.

So, if you are a senior manager, you need to find the resources to send at least some of your team to the Conference. The cost pales in comparison to the value received. And when you face a risk-filled emergency, your expert team will be better prepared to deal with it.