October 27, 2014
As a risk manager, I have seen risks lurking, where nobody dared checking. Sometimes I was wrong. Many times, I was right.
And some of those times, I was able to convince senior management to do something about it before risks morphed into crises.
The key role of a risk manager is to manage risk, not to avoid it. It is also the responsibility of a risk manager not to
cause a stampede through fear mongering. Only in a few instances is it difficult to determine, where seasoned warnings end
and where hysteria begins.
Over the last few years, it has increasingly occurred to me that fewer and fewer people
are capable of making this important distinction. People are driven by some of the most irrational fears. Often these fears
are picked up by the ever-present media and magnified many times over, creating more fear and sometimes leading policy-makers
to make completely uneducated decisions, because they feel compelled to show their constituencies that they are doing something
about "it". Whatever "it" might be.
With all their energy absorbed by taking control of false
crises they regularly overlook risks, where they are truly threatening. And by all means, this is a First World Luxury.
First World countries generally have fairly low poverty rates, can't even comprehend the problem of malnutrition (maybe
bad nutrition, but not malnutrition), their life expectancy rates are high and with all shortcomings, the elderly are well
taken care of.
Of course, there are serious risks that can jeopardize many of these achievements. Losing control
of the financial system, which led to the Great Recession, is one recent example. Another risk, policy-makers should be very
worried about, is a major state-sponsored cyber-attack that could threaten our water supply, cripple our electricity grid
or wipe out all financial records from our commonly-shared systems.
But no, nobody really cares about these things.
It takes deliberation and contemplation to devise strategies to avoid the occurrence or re-occurrence of such events. It takes
courage to admit that some of these crises may not be preventable, but that we are developing contingency plans should they
It is so much easier for the First World on both sides of the Atlantic to concentrate on threats that
are at best marginal. Not a day goes by without another media storm on ISIS. Undoubtedly, the medieval cruelty of this terrorist
organization (and that is all they are) is despicable.
But First World media have fallen victim to ISIS' shrewd cruelty
campaign and have elevated them to a perceived threat to civilization like none before. The populace runs scared and policy-makers
must show that they are doing something to contain this problem.
Yet, the most egregious example of First World Panic
is the reaction to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. This really only became somewhat of a news story, once the outbreak
there exceeded a few dozen people, as had been the case in the past. But it truly became a subject of public discourse
in Europe and in the United States after a couple of Western health workers fell ill with the disease once they had returned
to the First World.
In a mixture of colonialism and racism, the problem, which many had considered just another "African
disaster", suddenly became a First World Problem, except that it is not.
It was, therefore, an outrageous and
most irresponsible sign of bipartisanship when the governors of New York and New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie,
decided last week to impose a quarantine on any healthcare worker returning from Africa after treating Ebola patients. It
is a sad sign of our times, when bipartisanship only seems feasible to make the most horrifically misguided political decisions.
The quarantine is irresponsible on multiple fronts. I can only mention a few. First, it further stigmatizes a battered
continent with no justification. As an embarrassing side note, it should be mentioned that European soccer coaches are whining
about the fact that their African professionals are asked to play for their national teams in spite of Ebola. Some European
soccer officials have gone as far as to demand canceling the African Cup to be held in Morocco next January (There have been
no reported Ebola cases in Morocco so far).
Second, the NY/NJ quarantine also stigmatizes heroic healthcare workers
from the First World who volunteer to treat the desperately ill. Third, the quarantine discourages additional volunteers as
well as the effective deployment of resources where they are most needed, i.e. in West Africa.
And lastly, the quarantine
magnifies the media-propagated panic and hysteria about the impending threat of an Ebola pandemic on our soil.
fear is totally irrational. The Ebola virus can only be transmitted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected
person, who already has the symptoms of the disease. The virus is not airborne and you just don't "catch" Ebola.
But no matter, how often one repeats these scientific facts, the panic grows nevertheless.
Hence, the actions by the
governors of New York and New Jersey are cowardly, unscientific and motivated entirely by the politics of this drama. Both
want to show that they are "proactive" not like the "weak" President who has told the general public the
truth, meaning that there is no reason for concern.
A pandemic is not a joke and we all must be prepared for it if
it were to occur. The actions needed in such a case would mean hardship for many, such as quarantine. But Ebola is not a pandemic
and raising it to the level of such public health threat is just as irresponsible as raising the profile of ISIS by telling
the American people that we are all going to die at the hand of these extremists, if we don't deploy troops in Syria now (Senator
While deaths from the flu vary every year, the average death-rate
over the last 30-some flu seasons stood at more than 23,000 U.S. residents a year! Rather than running their states on shortsighted,
politically motivated and deeply disturbing fake decisiveness in the case of Ebola, Governors Christie and Cuomo would be
better advised to tell the residents of their states to get vaccinated for flu and pneumonia. But I guess, in a world dominated
by sensationalist journalism that would be asking too much of them.Enter content here