So what is risk? We hear the term a great deal today in our fast changing world. We hear it in terms of the economy and individual behavior, but what should we know about managing risk as student affairs staff. Knowing more about what constitutes risk and how to manage risk; helps open the eyes of all of our staff on how they can be an active part of department’s risk management plan.
Risk defined in simple formula is risk equals the rate or possibility of occurrence multiplied by the impact of the event- (occurrence x impact= risk). Occurrence is based on the type of threat. As an example: what is the occurrence of a snow storm in Florida in July? or Vermont in January? One example is rare and one is more common. How much energy should you spend preparing emergency plans for the snow in July in Florida?
Impact is also based on the type of threat. Consider, do you need to have a detailed rain plan for an outdoor floor social? How about an outdoor Spring Commencement? In both cases the rate of occurrence is the same- how often does it rain. Yet the impact level is what changes the level of risk.
How do you identify the risks in your area?
There are a number of formal tools to identify risks that are used by risk management professionals. A common sense approach to identify risks in a work place is using feedback from the staff that works in the environment daily. Using both the experiences of the staff, and their knowledge of your students and programs, you can often identify risks in your area.
Your review should be made in terms of risks (both occurrence and impact) to your students, resources and programs. Staff from the professional level to the student staff can be part of these discussions. The discussion could be a standard agenda item for staff meetings to review situations or annual occurrences coming up as well as current hall issues. Also, in terms of identifying common facilities risks, a helpful habit is touring your building(s) with an eye for hazards- from basic RA rounds, to a full facility walk-thru.
Informally Reviewing Risk
•Walking the space…physical risks: broken stair treads, propped doors
•Asking “what if?”
•Seeking advice from others
•Would you be able to support the decision, if it was on the front page of the paper
•Case studies with staff
Tracking trends is another important risk tool. Hot topics like pandemics and even bed bugs have put new risks into the dialog on our campus, and the minds of our customers. These new concerns are both a risk in terms of the actual events, and in terms of media response and public relations.
Now that you know some risks, what do you do?
Avoiding all risk is impossible. We could lower our risks a great deal by not having college students living in our buildings, but that would be risky to our budgets and purpose.
Other than ignoring risk, there are four options of managing risk. In many cases you will use a combination these methods.
•Retention (aka acceptance)
•Transfer (aka buying insurance)
•Avoidance (aka elimination)
•Reduction (aka mitigation)
Retention of risk, is accepting you cannot fully control the occurrence, so you lower the risk by lessening the impact that you can control. In the case of a hurricane you cannot control the weather, so you set emergency plans and systems in place to lower the impact.
Transfer of risk is accepting when you cannot, or choose not to control, the occurrence. So you transfer the impact (mostly financial) to another group or entity. This is the case of why we have insurance. It is also the reason why campuses sometimes decide to remove institutional recognition from a group or not allow some events on campus- it is transferring the risk to the group or hosts of the event instead of the institution. You look at the risk and insure that the impact is lessened by outside resources covering the loss.
Avoidance of risk is the attempt to eliminate the occurrence. This is often the reasons behind strict policies for staff, or procedures requiring a number of key staff to be part of a decision making process. This is often behind the decision of why certain programs are not allowed, such as food eating contests or extreme sports competitions. Policies that impact residents, because the level of enforcement is not always perfect, can be viewed as Reduction of risk.
Reduction of risk is much like retention of risk, but you focus on lowering the occurrence and impact. You begin with a review of causes behind the occurrence, and work to eliminate or manage these causes, as well as to decrease the impact in the case of an occurrence. A good example of reduction are polices that prohibit weapons on campus. Weapons might be found on campus, but it lowers the number of weapons. In the case of a fire, you work to lower the occurrence and impact with safety equipment, educational campaigns and programs, but still know fires can happen.
Student affairs professionals on your campus have most likely been using these methods stand alone or in combination. By identifying the methods you currently rely on, and using them as a starting point for discussion, there might be opportunities to better manage your risk levels. Having the opportunity to discuss risk reduction with a range of staff can help bring some unique solutions to the table. Share these suggested solutions on a variety of levels to get buy-in and feedback, so your risk reduction, does not open up a range of new risks.
Managing Risk – Long Term
Taking the year long experiences from the different staff (RAs, Housekeeping, Hall Directors) in your campus building(s) should make the yearly review of policies and procedures a lively discussion of risk and risk management. Policies and procedures are at the core of many of the responses to risk, along with enforcement and education. Placing the planning of educational campaigns on safety and policies to a range of staff, with the knowledge of what risk areas you are targeting, will allow a level of creativity and fresh ideas to reach students.
If you have an opportunity to build or remodel facilities, viewing the design from a risk management perspective can be helpful. Designing facilities with an eye for lowering some key risks can help guide your choice in materials, space design, and safety. The engineers and architects know the building and safety codes that make a building safer, but student affairs knows student behavior and need to share that expertise. Student affairs professionals often look back on their current campus buildings and say “what were they thinking?” This is an opportunity to provide that feedback while the building is still in design.
Empowering a variety of staff with the basics of what risk is, and how to manage risk, allows them to be an active part of your department’s risk management activities. This can help bring new concerns to the table, and keep education and policies relevant to current students on long standing concerns. Understanding risk and the options departments can use in terms of managing risk can support staff buy –in on decisions and policies that might not be understood otherwise. Understanding risk is also an important skill set for growth and promotion of staff, and a good transferable skill for our student staff to take into their future careers. Lastly, having knowledge of what constitutes risk and how to manage risk; supports making all staff an active part of department’s risk management plan.
Alexander, Carol and Sheedy, Elizabeth (2004). The Professional Risk Managers’ Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Current Theory and Best Practices (1st ed.). Wilmington, DE: PRMIA Publications. ISBN.
Submitted by Aaron Lucier, Director of Housing Operations, East Carolina University