Planning for plan failure

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Planning for plan failure

We recently spoke at the CPM 2005 West conference. We arrived at our lecture room a few minutes before the previous talk ended. The speaker was wrapping up, and noted that when you made plans, it was prudent to make back-up plans in case your original plan failed. This is an important point, and, although we have discussed it in the past, it is well worth repeating. In this article, we will only talk about travel contingencies.

As an example of what can go wrong, some time ago we were in Teheran, and found ourselves needing to leave with some urgency. Leaving by plane, the most obvious choice, was, for a number of reasons, not possible, so our backup plan was to leave by train.

As it worked out, taking a train out became unfeasible, so our backup plan to that was to take a bus. In fact, this worked for us and we were able to make it safely out or Iran. Had the bus not worked we has several other plans, ranging from the pedestrian (walk across an unguarded border into Turkey) to the exotic (by camel to Afghanistan, which would have created a different set of issues).

How many sets of plans you need to have depends on what you are doing, and the consequences of plan failure. In a situation where the consequences are negligible, you may choose not to have any backup plans. If the consequences are more serious you may have a plan. If the consequences are really serious – someone may end up dead – you will likely have several sets of backup plans.

How serious is serious? Only you can judge. When we go out we habitually carry a small safety kit with us that includes a flashlight, gloves, rescue knife (February 2003 AEGIS), smoke mask (August 2004 AEGIS), and a whistle (September 2004 AEGIS). This is enough for normal use. If we plan to be somewhere that nobody could hear a whistle (like out hiking), we would likely throw in a personal locator beacon (October 2003 AEGIS).

When we go abroad to a place where we do not anticipate trouble, we usually plan to return by our return flight. If it is a place where there is a probability of a disruptive natural disaster or political problem, we may have a backup plan and a backup plan to that. If we are running a protective detail, we are likely to have several layers of backup plans.

Bottom line, in almost anything you do you should have a backup plan. And if it is important, you should have a plan for what to do if the first plan fails.

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