Risk – 5 Techniques to Mitigate and Achieve High Risk Activities

Achieving high risk activities requires serious planning and the use of risk mitigation techniques.  Do you know your limits?  Have you pushed yourself to extremes, to your breaking point and, perhaps, beyond?  Have you taken insane risks and survived to tell the tale?  I’ve certainly faced some really intense, insane risks and walked away at the other end.  You can do the same.

Alastair Macartney performs a back loop exit from the Istanbul Sapphire building during the Pro BASE World Cup.  A seemingly high risk activity, the risks have been mitigated and reduced to an acceptable level.  Photo by Kontizas Dimitrios - KontizasDimitrios@gmail.com

Alastair Macartney performs a back loop exit from the Istanbul Sapphire building during the Pro BASE World Cup. A seemingly high risk activity, the risks have been mitigated and reduced to an acceptable level. Photo by Kontizas Dimitrios

My secret to walking away after facing some intense risks is two-fold:

  • Mitigate the Risk.  You need to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.  There is no way you want to attempt an activity that has an incredible risk.  You need to find measures to reduce that risk to an acceptable level.  Only, when the risk has been reduced, should you then attempt the activity.
  • Walk Away.  If the risk is too high, simply walk away from it.  If you’re not trained appropriately and do not have the correct measures in place, if the risk is too high, then do NOT undertake the activity.  It’s plain and simple.  If you can’t reduce the risk to an acceptable level, to a level that you are prepared to accept, then do not do it.

My cousin, Liz Rogers, is an award winning cave diving and underwater photographer.  I recently got into a Facebook chat with her about which activity was more adventurous and, therefore, which one contains more risk: BASE jumping or cave diving.  Both have the potential to be high risk activities.  Here’s what I said:

It’s about your expertise, your skill level and how you approach it.  It’s about calculating the risk, mitigating it and reducing it to an acceptable level.  And it’s about You and how You approach it.  Some people should never be involved in either of these.  Both can go wrong very quickly and it’s then about having the confidence, judgement and skill to be able to decisively react, correctly.  Mistakes can be fatal.

I often undertake activities that incorporate high risk.  Often, these risks are higher than I am prepared to accept.  I don’t let that stop me.  I quantify the risks, calculating what they are.  I then find measures to mitigate the risk and reduce it.  I keep doing so until I have reduced all the risks to an acceptable level.

5 techniques that I often use to mitigate risk include:

  • Reconnaissance.  Similar to techniques used by the military I will undertake reconnaissance of the area that I plan to operate in.  When I’m BASE jumping I will walk the landing area, view the approaches, check the prevailing winds.  I might use Google Earth to provide additional angles.
  • On Site Training.  If I plan to conduct a high speed wingsuit close proximity fly-by I might make a number of jumps in the vicinity of the area.  I’ll understand local conditions, the weather patterns and wind currents.  I’ll get used to the visuals- I don’t want to be seeing new pictures for the very first time during the higher risk activity.
  • Build Up Training.  There’s no need to go from zero to hero.  Training can be progressive and avoid jumping straight in at the deep end.  In order to buzz the face of a mountain at 130 mph I might start with some jumps where I buzz it at 10 feet away before working progressively closer.
  • Actions On.  I plan all possible outcomes and consider how to deal with them.  What would I do if I find myself low as I approach the target or if my parachute opens 90 degrees to the left?  What action would I take on being faced with this scenario?  Should one of these situations occur I need to have a plan and be able to deal with it immediately, not face it for the first time during the activity.
  • Visualisation.  I spend significant time visualising the activity.  I visualise it occurring perfectly.  But I also spend time visualising my ‘Actions On’ and dealing with them.  As I cannot directly simulate these activities this is the closest I can get to training them.  I need to be able to undertake split second decisive judgement, always thinking three steps ahead – this is the only way I can get my brain to function fast enough to be able to react accordingly.

I need to be certain that I have reduced the risks to an acceptable level.  At any point, if I find that I am not able to do so, then I can walk away.  Each of us will have our own definition of what that acceptable level is.  It’s unique for all of us.  There are a variety of factors from our appetite to risk, our backgrounds, competence and training.  The 5 risk mitigation techniques above are just a list of many but they can apply to all walks of life from basic business risks, teamwork or operating in high risk environments.

In order to learn to BASE jump it is recommended to have a minimum of 200 skydives.  I had over 1,000 jumps before I started.  Not because I wasn’t any good but because, for me, without doing so I could not mitigate the risk to an acceptable level.  Sure, I had what others say is the pre-requisite skill level when I had 200 jumps but the risk would have been significantly higher – one that I was not prepared to accept.  So I waited, I trained harder and for longer, until I had mitigated the risk to an acceptable level.

I often undertake seemingly crazy, insane and high risk activities.  The reality is that the actual activity I undertake is not high risk at all.  The outside world might just see the resulting YouTube video, like the Jump4Heroes video entitled Pushing The Limits, and consider it to be an insane risk.  However, the activities undertaken there are not high risk when serious risk mitigation has taken place.  What you don’t see on the video is the days spent on top of the building in Istanbul waiting for the weather to be acceptable, watching other BASE jumpers and observing the wind sheer effects on them.  You don’t see the hundreds of jumps I have done in this Swiss valley edging closer and closer to mountain face when I fly my wingsuit proximity line at 130 mph on a day with perfect conditions- I was perfectly comfortable and completely in my element.

High risk activities can be undertaken.  The trick is to calculate the risk, mitigate it and reduce it to an acceptable level.  The high risk activity then becomes a low risk activity.  And, if you can’t mitigate the risk to an acceptable level then the answer is simple – walk away.

Question:  What risks do you take and how do you mitigate the risks?

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