Three Levels of Security

A Japanese judge is holding up plans to restart nuclear reactors in Japan.

“There is little rational basis for saying that an earthquake with a magnitude that exceeds the safety standard will not occur,” said Judge Higuchi, 62. “It is an optimistic view.”

RISKVIEWS does not know what the plans are for the safety of those plants.  But it seems that for many risk and safety related issues, we need to be thinking of three levels of security.

  1. At the first level of security, the impact of potential volatility will be managed to within tolerances with normal risk mitigation methods.  Processes will be maintained so that there is constant assurance that the normal risk mitigation methods are kept in operation.
  2. At the second level of security, the actual volatility will be too much for normal risk mitigation methods to contain.  But, this level of security involves extraordinary actions that need to be employed to keep an out of tolerance situation from getting worse and sometimes, if brought into action early enough to prevent the out of tolerance situation from developing.  These extraordinary actions will often conflict with other goals of the organization – for example for a business, they may endanger profit or growth goals.
  3. At the third level of security, the actual volatility will be too much for both normal mitigation or extraordinary actions to manage the impact to within tolerances.  The security plans need to be made in terms of containing the out of tolerance situation to limit the spread of damages – especially to prevent a situation of cascading failures.

With risk management plans for these three levels of security, there are no situations where the responsible party simply throws up their hands and walks away.

In the case of the Japanese Nuclear power, the impression from the press about the Fukishima disaster was that the nuclear power operators only had a first level plan, but with a fairly high threshold.  If the new plans for restarting the nuclear power plants are mainly a new first level security plan with a somewhat higher threshold, then the judge is right in relying the restart.

But, on the other hand, if Judge Higuchi is looking for a first level security plan with a threshold that is higher than the worst possible earthquake, he is being unrealistic.

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