How To Prevent a Catastrophe? 3: Conduct Area Studies.

(excerpt from It Doesn’t Just Happen:  The Gift of Failure)


Conduct Area Studies

In Special Forces, prior to deploying to an Area of Operations, we conducted an Area Study of that location. You must conduct an Area Study of your Catastrophe Area of Operations (AO). Your home, your work, and any other locales where you spend a significant amount of time. When taking a trip, you should conduct a travel area study, examining the route you will take, your destination, and your route back.

There are so many cases where a thoughtful Area Study followed up by the appropriate preparations would have saved lives and avoided catastrophe. Prevention is more efficient than avoidance. Preparation is so much better than reacting.

Custer certainly would have benefited from an area study. At the very least, a better reconnaissance would have shown him what he was really up against.

The Donner Party put their lives on the line because of the words of a man who had not done an area study, but wrote as if he had.

Think about it. You live in a tsunami zone. Have you actually driven your evacuation route? How long does it take? Have you figured out the quickest escape route on foot, when an accident caused by terrified people blocks the road or everyone in your neighborhood fleeing on the same route creates a traffic jam? You work on the 90th floor of a skyscraper. Do you ever look around and ask yourself: how do I get out of here if the normal means of egress are blocked?

How close are you to the nearest military base? Nearest police station? Firehouse? Hospital? Even in day-to-day living, do you know where the closest emergency room is? How long it will take to get there? How quickly can an ambulance respond to your location?

You want to examine your environment for a lot of things. What can harm you? What can help you? What can hide you? What are your enabling factors? What are your disabling factors? What effect does your environment have on you? What effect will you have on it? In essence, an Area Study requires you to invest the time and energy on research.

patch-500x500 For an A-Team, we conducted the Area Study in Isolation where we were locked up 24/7 in a secure compound. We’d bring in area experts (CIA agents, State Department personnel, people who’d traveled there, locals, academics, etc.) to tell us about the environment we were heading into. This is a technique I recommend for businesses under my Who Dares Wins program.

Do a HALO study of your environment and organization.

An Area Study must combine with the catastrophe mindset to focus on what can go wrong will go wrong!

It Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure I and II availabe at all platforms via this landing page.

It’s a Dog Day with Cool Gus—Remembering Rex

IMG_0158I’m a dog guy. Obviously. Cats, not so much (I probably just lost thousands of readers). When Jennifer Cruise and I were writing Don’t Look Down, in the third scene I had Tyler, the sniper, in the swamp. And I wanted him to shoot something. Why? Because I’m a shoot something kind of guy too. Nah. But anyway. So I had him shoot a cat.

Needless to say, Jenny was appalled when she got that scene. You’d have thunk I’d committed some awful crime. So we changed it to some other poor creature. Sigh.

I’ve learned a lot from my dogs over the years. There was Rex, the abandoned stray who weighed around 40 pounds when found eating out of a dumpster. Mixture of chow, shepherd and who knows what else and filled out to around 100 pounds once fed properly (and improperly such as when he snarked the meatloaf off the counter) and was not fat (I’m talking to you Gus and Becca). He could find his way home from anywhere. You ever read about the dog that somehow gets lost a thousand miles away from home and makes it back?

When we first moved to Boulder, Colorado, I went on my first run on the Mesa trails with Rex. And we were a couple of miles in and he saw a deer. And he was gone like that. Zoom. I called for him and searched for him and then came home and told my wife “I lost Rex” although technically, Rex lost Rex. But my wife somehow feels I have more responsibility for things than the dog. Sigh.

So I went back out and ran the trail and at the exact spot where he’d taken off after that deer, he was sitting there, with a look that said: Yo, dude, where did you go? One time he got mad at me on the beach at Hilton Head and decided to head home. And he just started trotting away on the bike paths toward home.

Oh yeah, the beach. I don’t know what happened to him as a puppy, but he was terrified of water. When the waves came in, he ran away, terrified he might get his huge paws wet. Yet, at the same time, he could find water to drink anywhere. In Colorado, he would disappear into some ravine and be slurping it up from some tiny spring. Actually not liking water was a good idea on Hilton Head because there were gators in the fresh water. And those suckers can move fast when they see a meal.

Rex apparently didn’t like deer. Maybe it was personal? You’re not supposed to mess with deer in Colorado. We had open space behind the house, a strip about a hundred yards wide. And Rex saw a deer and zoom, he was on that thing. He knocked it down, and had his paw on it, looking back like—hey, look at me. He let it go, but we were like, yo, Rex, don’t be doing that. At least not in daylight when people can see.

Rex loved the Jeep. Actually, all my dogs have loved the Jeep. Well, okay, Becca isn’t too thrilled with it. Not like Gus. Becca is only thrilled with food and cuddling. But more on that in another post.

All I had to do was open the door in the Jeep and Rex was in there, sitting in the passenger seat, his head the same height as mine. He looked so fierce, but he was the gentlest soul. He wouldn’t eat unless one of us was there with him.

Rex was a good dog.

The Worst School Catastrophe in US History

New LondonNew London Schoolhouse Explosion: Lack of Focus

“I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.” Walter Cronkite

Propane doesn’t smell. It’s odorless in its natural state. But if there is a leak, you smell a nasty odor.

Ever wonder why?

It would have been fortuitous if this had been done as more and more buildings began to use propane and gas for heating. But no one thought of doing it until they realized they had to.

Lessons learned that save lives later, often come at high cost.

The Facts

On March 18, 1937, a gas leak was sparked, causing an explosion that killed approximately 293 students and teachers at the New London School in New London, Texas. It is still the deadliest school disaster in U.S. History.

ShitDoesntJustHappenFinal(1)The Cascading Events DEFINITION:  An event prior to a catastrophe that contributes to the actual catastrophe, but by itself, is not catastrophic.

Cascade One

The school board overrode the architect’s plan for heating the school.

The original plan, as drawn up by the architect, called for the school to be heated by a boiler and a steam system. But the school board overrode that and insisted on a gas system in order to save money.

The New London Schoolhouse was located in Rusk County and despite the rest of the country being bogged down in the Great Depression; it was one of the richest areas in the country. Oil fueled the local economy. There were even 11 derricks located right on school grounds. The school was relatively new, having been built in 1932.

Despite a large amount of money spent on the construction, the decision was made to heat the school with 72 gas heaters, rather than the planned centralized boiler and steam system. The architect warned them that the building wasn’t designed to vent gas fumes, but they proceeded anyway.


Experts are just that.

There are actually two problems here wrapped in one. First is ignoring the original plans for the building. A heating system is integral to such plans and in this case, the building had been designed for steam heat. Switching to multiple gas heaters ignored the basic construction of the building. And ignoring the warning that the building wasn’t designed to vent gas fumes was piled on top of that.

Available at all platforms via this landing page.

Pearl Harbor: Anatomy of a Catastrophe

PearlHarbor_TN copyToday marks the 73rd Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

While most people focus on the ‘surprise’ element of the attack, the reality is that the cascade events leading up to it were a mixed bag of obvious, and worse, miscalculations.  Both the Americans and the Japanese military seriously misjudged each other’s intentions and war plans.

In light of this anniversary, I’ve pulled the event and made it a .99 special on Kindle (free is you have Kindle Unlimited).  It’s short, but lists the six key cascade events that led up to seventh event, the actual attack.  This follows my Rule of Seven, where every catastrophe involving humans doesn’t occur in isolation.  There are always at least six cascade events leading up to the catastrophe and at least one (if not all) involved human error.  Thus many catastrophes can be avoided.

For Pearl Harbor, the six cascade events are:

Cascade One  Political misunderstanding and maneuvers that backfired.

Cascade Two  Military strategic planners in both countries seriously miscalculated each other.

Cascade Three  Warnings were ignored and/or not given to those who needed to get the warnings.

Cascade Four  Tactical considerations worked both ways.

Cascade Five  New technology was not used correctly.

Cascade Six  Timing is everything.

Here’s a curious fact:  did you know that the Japanese started the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 with a surprise attack on Russia’s Pacific Fleet at Port Arthur prior to declaring war?  Sound familiar?  A key to these shorts is to learn from history.  More shorts are following and will be focused on key dates.

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