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Whose Risk? Whose Responsibility?

In today’s risk-preoccupied society, questions concerning the roles of government and citizens in taking responsibility during times of crisis demand clear-cut answers

4 min read
An unidentified woman holds a child while hurricane evacuees wait in line to enter the New Orleans Super Dome, August 2005.
Photo: Marko Georgie/Getty Images

“All levels of government failed in its obligations.” So said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chair of the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In a joint press release with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) announcing an investigation into the federal relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, they said they would focus—just as after 9/11—on the question “How could this have happened in America, and what must our government do to make sure to the best of our ability that nothing like this national nightmare ever happens again?”

While answering this question is important from the perspective of risk-management lessons learned, it will be woefully inadequate if we don't ask a set of more fundamental questions: “What is the obligation of government—local, state, and federal—to manage its citizens’ risk? What are U.S. citizens’ expectations in regard to management of their risk? What is the nation’s risk appetite and risk tolerance? How much risk management is enough? Can the government protect its citizens from all their risks, and even if it can, should it? What are the responsibilities of individuals to manage their own risk?” Without addressing these and similar questions, we are likely to end up with more poorly conceived and costly risk mitigation strategies that will actually increase risk.

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Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

His pivot from defense helped a tiny tuning-fork prevent SUV rollovers and plane crashes

11 min read
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Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

In 1992, Asad M. Madni sat at the helm of BEI Sensors and Controls, overseeing a product line that included a variety of sensor and inertial-navigation devices, but its customers were less varied—mainly, the aerospace and defense electronics industries.

And he had a problem.

The Cold War had ended, crashing the U.S. defense industry. And business wasn’t going to come back anytime soon. BEI needed to identify and capture new customers—and quickly.

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