Thursday, September 3, 2009

Overcoming the Gilligan Factor—enhancing mission effectiveness through risk management

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. Original article written by LCDR Thomas Olenchock, former Industrial Hygienist, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Safety and Environmental Health.

Remember the TV show “Gilligan’s Island”? Do you think the professor and Mary Ann expected they were about to embark on a fateful three-hour tour? Would they have done anything differently if they knew about operational risk management?

Just like they made the decision to get on the S.S. Minnow, we make risk-based decisions every day. Weighing the risks and benefits associated with activities defines operational risk management, or ORM.

The Steps in Operational Risk Management
ORM is a way to evaluate risk. While seven steps may seem like a lot, the process steps are fairly simple:
  1. Identify what you want to do.

  2. Identify the hazards.

  3. Assess the risk.

  4. Identify your options.

  5. Weigh the risks against the benefits.

  6. Perform the task.

  7. Monitor the situation.

Analyzing the “Gilligan Factor”— The Green, Amber, Red Model
So how did the crew of the S.S. Minnow get stuck on that remote island? Would applying the ORM model of green, amber, red (GAR) have suggested they reconsider their decision to sail that day?

The GAR model has six inputs that are weighted to evaluate risk. These factors, scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with “10” being a high risk, are:

  • Supervision—In this case, the skipper was probably not a substantial source of supervision risk and could be scored low. Let’s call this a “1.”

  • Planning—Since it was a trip they had made several times before, we’ll score it a “2.”

  • Crew selection—This is where we factor in Gilligan. I would have to say the “little buddy” is a walking risk and would score him around a “7.”

  • Crew fitness—Remember this is not just rating weight and strength, but also takes into consideration things like fatigue, alertness, and external stresses. I would rate crew fitness a “2.”

  • Environment—Sailing or flying into a typhoon sounds like a very high-risk maneuver to me. I would rate environment as a “10.” Environment also factors in the platform or location. For example, the S.S. Minnow would not weather the typhoon as well as would a large, steel-hulled vessel.

  • Event complexity—Event complexity would be low. It was only a three-hour tour, so I’d rate it a “3."

A score of 0 to 23 indicates “green” (low risk), 23 to 44 warns “amber” (caution), and between 44 and 60 is “red” (high risk).

By adding up the S.S. Minnow’s factors, we see it rates a score of 25, or “amber,” which tells us that something should be addressed to help mitigate the risk.

A look at the categories shows that environment is the largest source of risk. By postponing the tour or taking a different route, we could reduce that risk.

The Severity, Probability, and Exposure Model
The green, amber, red model is just an assessment of the risks associated with a plan. How can we reduce risk during the planning process? The operational risk management green, amber, red model does not lend itself easily to planning. That is why ORM contains several risk models to choose from. For planning, the simplest one to use is the severity, probability, and exposure (SPE) model, where risk = S x P x E:

Value / Risk Level / Action to Take
80-100 / very high / discontinue, stop
60-79 / high / immediate correction
40-59 / substantial / correction required
20-39 / possible / attention needed
1-19 / slight / possibly acceptable
0 / none / none

For the S.S. Minnow, I would rate severity (being stranded for years or even perishing) as a “5” on a scale of 0 to 5 (ranging from “no potential for loss” to “catastrophic”). I would rate probability as “very likely” if you are going out with that typhoon around, so that would also be a “5” on a scale of 0 to 5 (ranging from “impossible” to “very likely to happen”). Exposure is the number of people affected—seven, for the cruise we’re considering. I would consider this to be an average exposure, so I’d give it a “2” on a scale of 0 to 4 (ranging from “no exposure” to “great exposure”).

This plan to go out in a typhoon would have an SPE score of 50 (risk = S x P x E), which clearly indicates that substantial corrective actions would be needed to make this tour a success.

Enhancing Mission Success
The USCG formalized the concepts of ORM in 1999 with the publication of Operational Risk Management (COMDTINST 3500.3). However, the ideals of risk management have been present in various communities much longer than that.

About the author:
At the time the article was published, LCDR Olenchock was an industrial hygienist in the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Safety and Environmental Health, where he had spent the previous three years working on risk management issues surrounding sector operations, vessel inspections, and safety management. He holds a Master of Science degree from the University of Washington in industrial hygiene.

For more information:
Full article is available at; click on “Archives” and then “2007 Volume 64, Number 1” for this Spring 2007 “Risk Management” edition.

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Direct requests for print copies of this edition to:


Daren Lewis said...

Great post/article. I've excerpted it on our Flotilla blog: