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With the anniversary of September 11th and as a person in the safety and risk management profession, I am more concerned today with our country’s safety than ever before — because of complacency.
As we pause to recognize the anniversary of 9-11, I am concerned about the problem that most families and businesses share. Complacency is defined as “calm contentment; satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.”
I define complacency as the silent killer. It is the root of just about every tragedy in American history, such as Hurricane Katrina, Space Shuttle Columbia, the Challenger explosion, Titanic, BP Gulf of Mexico Spill, Pearl Harbor,. . .etc. the list is long.
To apply a real life parable — as a father of one teenager and one adult driver, who had learned a lesson or two growing up, both were told when they started driving that the odds are great that you will have a car accident before you turn 21. In fact, the insurance company is betting heavily on that fact with my very own wallet. As I explained, the issue wasn’t that they could not become good drivers, as they both showed obvious signs and desire that they can drive safely; the issue was that they would soon become complacent with the act of driving and that is when it would happen.
They each assured me that this would not happen to them, but as time passed, I could see complacency set in and I unfortunately have been proven right. In a very stern manner, I even predicted a week before one accident actually occurred that he would have an accident within a week if things did not change, after witnessing a noticeable change in driving behavior one afternoon in my neighborhood.
The September 11th attacks are a clear example where complacency became the silent killer. There was clear and recognizable evidence that our enemies were plotting and willing to inflict terror on the American Heartland, and in fact they had struck the Twin Towers several years before. Nevertheless, comfort and complacency set in, and as a nation we let down our guard — and witnessed the 9/11 tragedy unfold live on our televisions.
In my profession after a tragic event occurs, adrenaline and then alertness set the stage in days after such an event. I have seen business owners and managers morph from shock and disbelief to determination and vigilance to prevent reoccurrence, then go back to complacency as time progresses. Once the fear is no longer preoccupying, the mind can then wander and be distracted.
Case in point: What happens after you have received a speeding ticket or after a car accident? Do you not recognize a clear and distinct awareness in your driving behavior? Absolutely you do, but over time it’s human nature to become complacent and relaxed as things return to normal.
In the World of Safety …as things become routine and repetitive to those who stand guard to protect, they begin to navigate most of the day on autopilot as their surroundings and daily tasks become a comfortable friend. Over time as we watch the more experienced individuals and persons of authority (the keepers of tradition) lower their guard in the face of risk or danger, complacency then spreads like a disease from one to another, as this soon becomes the new acceptable norm and culture.
So the question is how should our nation guard against another 9-11 attack? The answer is the same in your everyday life and work environment:
You must open your mind and stay alert and vigilant and fight against comfort.
Yoga instructors often say we should close our eyes and open them as a child to see the world anew. The same is true with safety, as one must try to see the world differently every day, recognizing the hazards and risks that surround you. Paying attention to detail and the behaviors of those around you, focusing on the shortcuts that are being taken to complete daily tasks, as it is there where complacency thrives. Keep safety at the forefront and remind all that safety should never be compromised..
Training is necessary, however believing too much in the effectiveness of training is one way for complacency to take root. Regardless if you train 40 hours week, if the risk still exists then the tragedy can still occur. Training is not the end-all solution.
It is important to teach others to develop a deep level of respect for complacency and what can happen when it starts to creep into their decision-making. Complacency and violations of the rules must be addressed on the spot, or it soon becomes the norm. As new concerns are raised, lines of communication up and down throughout any structure or entity must flow in both directions, and follow-up and redundancy must follow.
Confidence is a good trait to have, but overconfidence can also result in tragedy; such as a good swimmer may chose to avoid wearing a life jacket but fail to recognize another hazard. So one should trust but verify.
It the wake of 9-11 the airline industry and the FAA have tried to reinvent their safety culture. As a result called the TSA was as part of a new Department of Homeland Security, employing over 58,000 employees today. But with such growth and change, comes growing pains and a huge bureaucracy — which breeds complacency.
It’s important to never forget that our enemies are counting on this natural reaction, as they wait for weakness to start to settle back in. Time becomes their ally and patience becomes their sword. Like a lion Al Qaeda lays and waits on its prey, hedging its bets that newfound distractions and comfort will one day allow them to attack again.
Similar to the safety and risk management world, to win this battle on terrorism in our homeland, we must take on the culture of a constant state of preparedness that seeks to eradicate complacency, replacing it with an emphasis on alertness, planning, hazard identification, problem-solving, and incident prevention. Never forgetting that our enemy never sleeps, neither should we. May God continue to bless and protect the USA.
Be safe, my friends.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at email@example.com.