Categories: ISJ Exclusives

ISJ Influencer 2022: Dr David Rubens, Executive Director, Institute of Strategic Risk Management


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It may be true, as the physicist Niels Bohr is reputed to have said, that prediction is difficult, especially when it is about the future – but from a risk and crisis management perspective, we can be pretty certain that the challenges we are going to be facing in 2023 are going to continue to test our structures, protocols and capabilities to their very limits.

The word ‘unprecedented’ has been over-used in the last few years, yet it is possible to label this as a period of genuinely unprecedented challenges. One of the phrases that came into fashion over the last few years was VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. That was used to describe the risk environment of the 2000’s, and yet from our current perspective, those already seem a distant and far less threatening age.

In the discussions we have in the Institute of Strategic Risk Management with partners, clients and other stakeholders, we discuss our current risk management context in terms of three pillars, each of which brings its own unique challenges and which combine to create a risk management approach that builds on and develops from the VUCA concept. Those pillars are: Complexity, unprecedentedness and non-recoverability.

The challenges we are facing, the impact and consequences they cause, the solutions we need to develop and the frameworks that would allow those solutions to be delivered, all involve a level of complexity that goes beyond our current capability to model or engage with. The nature of those threats, and the impacts they cause, are seemingly unprecedented in the level of disruption and destruction they bring with them and post-event we are no longer able to use the definition of resilience as the ability to return to the previous state – and instead we must find ways of dealing with both the immediate and long term challenges of the new reality.

If we, as a global security risk and crisis management community, are going to be able to step forward and engage with those challenges in meaningful ways, then we are going to have to develop the skills and frameworks that will allow us to do so and are robust enough to deliver what they need to deliver when required.

It has become clear that although the crisis events that we have faced over the last few years might seem to be unique – pandemics, lockdowns, infrastructure fragility, climate-change induced weather events, to name just a few – the reasons for the management failures that prevented governments, whether at national or city level, corporations or critical national infrastructure, from either preparing for those events or responding to them once that had occurred, are highly predictable.

The truth is, as identified in the House of Lords Select Committee Report ‘Preparing for Extreme Risks: Building a Resilient Society’ (December 2021), our risk assessment and management capacities are neither as effective nor as robust as we think they are or as they need to be. The response to those findings (based on the avoidable tragedy of 180,000 UK deaths from COVID-19), is quite simply that we, the global community of security, risk and crisis managers, need to be sure that our voices are heard and that we accept the responsibility of preparing our countries, cities, organisations and communities for the challenges to come.


David has been involved in the UK private security sector since he established his first training and consultancy company in 1991. Since then, he has been at the forefront of training and professionalisation programmes in the UK and across the world. He established the Institute of Strategic Risk Management in 2018, which currently has over thirty International Chapters and is widely recognised as one of the leading voices in the global strategic risk management arena.

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