School Business Affairs October 2020

22 OCTOBER 2020 | SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS RISK MANAGEMENT Reflecting on Risk Management: Were You Ready for COVID-19? COVID-19 has been a disruptive wake-up call. How good is your district’s risk management plan, really? By Karen Starr, Ph.D. D id COVID-19 catch you underprepared or completely unprepared? Every year, we consider of a huge range of possible perils and plan how we would address them. But have we ever considered that a pan- demic would be one of those perils? I for one did not. A pandemic has always been last on a long list of possible hazards on the risk management register. Our annual risk exercise involved assessing, monitoring, and devising means by which risks would be averted or managed. Using risk assessment tools and, very often, risk consultants, we established our risk profile and risk appe- tite. We identified potential risk scenarios or events, ranked them according to probability, and ascribed a consequence rating: low, medium, high, or catastrophic. Contributing risk factors and likely impacts were canvased and subse- quent actions devised to arrive at residual risk ratings. We considered multiple risks: strategic, teaching and learning, market, reputational, operational, financial, asset, technological, security, workforce, regulatory, and governance risks, for example. We considered natu- ral risks like droughts, floods, bushfires, or tornadoes, alongside risks created by humans, such as social, indus- trial, technological, and moral risks. The risk register included terrorism, climate change, toxic spills, and worldwide financial meltdowns, some of which could affect current and future generations or have irreversible consequences. And last was a pandemic. Like other organizations that did all such risk evalua- tion, we considered ourselves to be risk intelligent. How useful were these annual risk exercises? For a long time, education leaders have felt risk creeping up on them, with risks expanding continually and risk manage- ment becoming an increasingly multifaceted, technical, time-consuming and—dare I say it—boring exercise, but one that was endured year after year to be compliant. Leaders felt they needed to watch their backs because large or small, risks had to be managed, not ignored. But there was an increasing sense that managing risk was becoming increasingly riskier. The traditional risk recourse of common-sense leaders was no longer considered good enough. So organizations developed, expanded, and annually updated their risk registers and action plans, which were typically never used. Then entered COVID-19. No one knew what was coming, the controls that would be necessary, the repercussions, how long it would go on. Despite best efforts and ardently laid risk management plans, most THPSTOCK/STOCK.ADOBE.COM