Storm brewing

What Hurricane Irene showed about risk and human nature

This summer I embarked on my annual vacation with my wife and daughter. As usual, we spent a day packing the ever-present SUV with what looked like three months' worth of supplies and headed to a favorite island of ours for a week of relaxation.

I always cherish this week as a way to get away from the world of security. I get to stay in one place for a week. I get to read. There's no missed flights or TSA screenings. No rental cars or meals on the fly. No conference calls. And, to the guarded chagrin of my wife, only an occasional peek at email.

I've followed this routine for many years with only a few exceptions. I'm the kind of person who embraces routine for the comfort it brings. But this year was different. We still went to the beach nearly every day. Dined at some great restaurants. Drank a bit too much. But this year's vacation included an event I really did not plan for when I booked the trip last fall: Irene. As our vacation neared and our anticipation grew, so did the news coverage of Hurricane Irene, whose path was quickly converging with ours.

Now, I've lived through my share of tropical storms and hurricanes over the years. It's a given when you live in coastal New England. We learned young to make a beeline for the supermarket to stock up on bread, milk and batteries—those staples are drilled into every child's head growing up in New England. (When you reach adulthood, you learn that you are also supposed to stock up on booze.)

We were certainly never told to get on a boat, go to an island, and ride out the storm.

As it turned out, Irene (at least on our island) was a bit of a bust. Lots of wind, a little rain, plenty of Dark 'n' Stormy cocktails (recipe for that concoction available upon request). The sun was even out for most of it.

But watching the way people got ready for Irene was a great study of human nature. Some people prepared with the determination of Patton's army, leaving nothing to chance: windows taped, supplies stocked, boats pulled out of the harbor, insurance paid up, wills updated. Others bought a case of beer and threw a party.

If that's not a great metaphor for the differing approaches businesses take to dealing with risk, I don't know what is. Some watch the horizon and prepare for everything that can hurt them. Some sit back, certain in their belief that it will all be OK.

And most of the time everything is OK, but every now and then that person with the case of beer is swept out to sea. And sometimes the person who diligently stocked up and prepared for the worst actually has to face the worst.

But most times not. As a security professional, your job is to be a little bit of each type: Stock up and prepare...but also buy that case of beer and hope for the best.

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