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Managing Risks in Risky Situations

Imagine being adrift in the sea during a storm and looking down 60 feet at your rescue ship. That was the experience of one of the people rescued by the crew of the USCGC Tamora during the storm known as “The Perfect Storm.”

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Coast Guard Captain (Ret.) Larry Brudnicki was commanding officer of the ship involved in two dramatic rescues performed during that storm that inspired a best-selling book and a blockbuster movie.

Brudnicki spoke at the Wednesday lunch keynote relating the stories of the various people rescued from a foundering sailboat and an Air National Guard search and rescue crew that was forced to ditch its helicopter in the storm. After a harrowing rescue of people from a sailboat caught in the storm, his ship pursued the crew of a downed helicopter. Waves were reputed to be 100 feet high—some 60 feet above the 400-foot height of the ship’s bridge. Atop one of the waves while the ship was in the trough was the perspective of one of the search-and-rescue airmen.

The problem was that the airmen were in the water and the ship was rolling in the waves. The Coast Guard crew was tired, and the mission was dangerous for them. Brudnicki faced the decision—if he did nothing, they watched three men die; if he attempted the rescue, some of his crew could be washed overboard and be lost. This is a balance of risk versus reward.

Business managers today are in turbulent times. Perhaps it isn’t like the Perfect Storm, but today managers and engineers must manage the risks of doing business. Brudnicki concluded, “If you do, you have the confidence to go forward with your decisions in face of the challenges.”

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