Module 7.2 – Determining Impact

To determine impact you ask the question: “how bad would it be if the event happened?”

How much damage to your staff and property would result? How would your operation be affected? These questions are, to a certain extent, subjective, and different people will respond in different ways. This is because people have different information, and also because people do not always perceive the impact of an event in the same way. These differences are not necessarily bad; insights gained from discussion of the divergences can be enlightening. Nevertheless, we should seek to reduce problems caused by simple differences in interpretation of the question or terminology. To do this, it helps to have a common language of shared terms with agreed meanings when talking about risk. For example, for this course we have adopted a system that describes impact using the five one-word descriptors shown below:

five one word descriptors

Even with these standard definitions, there is room for subjective assumptions about the results of any given threat and the relative vulnerability of your office and staff to that threat. Nevertheless, the terms above provide a common language that is especially useful if several staff members in an office, or partners in an area, are undertaking the assessment together.

Several things to note when you determine impact:

  • The descriptors above show possible impacts on staff, property and programs. As a rule, you should classify an event at the highest level of impact that applies to any one of these three categories; e.g., a form of theft that is assessed to have a moderate effect on property and operations, but no particular effect on staff’s physical safety, would be classified as having overall moderate impact.
  • In considering the impact of a given event, you should take into consideration any mitigating measures currently in place. For example, the impact of a bomb outside your office might be assessed as moderate or even minor if you have appropriate protective measures—distance or perimeter walls. However, do not include any measures that you expect to undertake in the future. A risk assessment is a snapshot in time, and the moment that you are “photographing” is right now.

You may come to a situation where opinions diverge sharply over likely impact, because more than one distinct scenario can be imagined. For example, “traffic accident” could mean a small urban “fender bender” where heavy city traffic prevents speeds capable of causing major damage; or it could mean a high-speed collision on a six-lane superhighway. In such cases you probably need to break down your scenarios into distinct threats: e.g., “urban traffic accident” and “highway traffic accident,” and consider each separately.

For this exercise imagine a small field office in a rural area with very limited medical facilities or other immediate assistance providers. Using the descriptors for impact from the chart previously, match each of the short descriptions of possible threats with the best-fitting descriptor. Read each scenario, making any further assumptions that you need to make your decision, and fill in the descriptor of impact that you feel best reflects each one. This is not an assessment but an exercise to aid in your learning process:

threat scenario descriptor