Two significant fires broke out in Cambridgeshire this afternoon, only minutes apart – one at a barn near Ely and the other in a factory near March. The factory fire was particularly serious with over 60 firefighters involved at one point and residents advised to stay indoors because of clouds of smoke from burning plastic.
Most people would accept that the occurrence of these two events on the same day is merely a coincidence, nobody has so far suggested that it is evidence of a significant change in the risk of fire throughout Cambridgeshire. Whilst it would appear completely ridiculous to suggest that we should all be taking extra fire precautions on the basis of this afternoon’s events, this is exactly how people often go about managing risk: targeting their limited resources on mitigating a specific threat because of a very small number of events, or sometimes even just a single event. The reaction to weather-related events is a prime example of this: on the basis of two severe winters in a row, people are demanding that the UK should be better prepared to deal with snow.
Of course it is sensible to identify obvious risks to your organisation and, where cost-effective and practical, make efforts to mitigate them. But it is important to remember that risk analysis is not an exact science and the best value for money comes from flexible, generic Business Continuity plans rather than elaborate attempts to mitigate individual risks.