What can you do when you encounter a significant risky event? It is usually to brace yourself for the impact and attempt to minimize the harm. Alternatively, you could adopt a proactive strategy and divide your reaction into a series of steps to minimize the effect and help prevent further events to prevent them from happening. A major incident that happened to me was an extremely large project that took several years , and comprised procurement, engineering and delivery of construction. The project, like all projects, was backed by a budget and schedule that many stakeholders were monitoring closely. The implications of the schedule were just as crucial as the budget because delays could result in significant costs for stakeholders. The particular incident took place with a number of thousand tons of engineered material that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The material was shipped over oceans all around the globe. The preferred route for transport included a number of major ports for shipping. The strategy to reduce risk was to track the ship’s movements between and through each port of call and to be prepared to deal with any situation that could affect the timetable. The incident that occurred to the materials was completely unplanned and was never thought of as something that could happen.

While undergoing the routine customs inspection at some ports materials of a weapon grade were found in separate containers that were not included on the manifest for shipping and without proper documentation. There was no claim to the material and the shipping company denied its knowledge of the matter which raised suspicion. Because the ship was bound for a port in another country, which was the scene of historical tensions between the two nations, the military took the entire vessel along with our cargo , and then immediately detained the captain of the ship. The ship was kept at bay under military surveillance, along with the rest of its cargo. The advice from experts at the time was that the nation would probably keep ownership of the vessel and all her cargo, which means we might never ever see our cargo again. You’re probably thinking, better go out and find more materials and say goodbye to this one. It was certainly the option we considered, and one we tried to pursue at some cost, however the timing was not ideal even if we were able to manage to pay the costs. We were aware that even though the likelihood of success was very slim, we would need to figure out a way to bring our cargo back to us.

Our standard risk management approach included the creation of a risk-based matrix prior to starting the project to determine the most risky items feasible. The risk items were evaluated each one at a time in order to determine the impact and the likelihood of their existence. This gave a score for each risk to help us concentrate on the most important ones. A variety of mitigation strategies and actions were determined for each risk in order to decrease their likelihood and/or impact. Risk matrices were reviewed every month to see if certain items made it up the list or whether others had expired to keep us focused. While we made every effort to determine every risk on the matrix, and to conduct regular reviews and updates to maintain our eyes open, the threat of material being held in an overseas country wasn’t included on the list. When this incident occurred we did not have a developed mitigation strategy or plan of course of action. But, we all realized the severity of the consequences and decided to not accept failure as an option.

We immediately set up an organization to address the issue in a variety of areas, including ‘boots in the field’ inside the country. We sent native-language representatives directly to consulates as well as appropriate officials from the government to make an appeal to remove our materials from the vessel. We also requested another vessel to standby to carry the materials all the way. The whole process took months of every day conference calls every week between task force members from all over the globe, and appeals to government officials as well as shipping executives. The government eventually permitted us to release our documents and we were able to recover the time we had spent on our schedule and completed the project on time and on budget.

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