Recap of Gordon Graham Visit

In November of 2017, the Special District Association of Colorado hosted its annual continued professional training workshops. Gordon Graham was invited to speak on the nature of risk management as it pertains to special district operations. For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Gordon Graham is a renowned speaker with an extensive history in emergency services. The founder of Lexipol, a leading provider of defensible policies and training for public safety organizations, Mr. Graham has been commended for his vast contributions in improving fire fighter safety and performance through his risk management initiatives. Coupled with his experience as a lawyer and experience extensive training of public safety professionals, Mr. Graham is a leading subject expert in risk management.

Districts have had the privilege of hearing him speak on these subjects on more than one occasion, and we strongly recommend attending his presentations whenever you have the opportunity to do so.

What follows are general highlights from his exceptional presentation on real risk management at the 2017 SDA Forums last November. For more information on Gordon Graham, his impressive body of work, and Lexipol, please visit

What We Can Learn from Tragedy

Mr. Graham tells the audience of his early preoccupation with tragedy, from disasters in mining to planes and buildings. The nature of risk, Mr. Graham suggests, behooves one to view the events in hindsight, and proximate causes as more easily identified after the fact. However, real risk managers do not stop at proximate causes, but rather “go back in time and look for the problems lying in wait.” Mr. Graham attests that everyone in the audience is responsible for their respective spheres of influence, to look for any problems that may be lying in wait, and that those problems must be addressed before a tragedy occurs. That is real risk management, which can take multiple forms, from sharing and transferring to avoiding and eliminating risk entirely.

Mr. Graham tells us that every identifiable risk is a manageable risk, and that governmental agencies have been notoriously lacking in risk management in comparison to private companies. He challenges the audience to find any dedicated government risk managers in any federal, state, or local government phone directory. Additionally, Mr. Graham emphasizes that prevention is far more effective and ideal than correction, and that real risk management entails anticipating issues before they arise rather than trying to fix mistakes and add controls after the fact.

He explains real risk management further by introducing a checklist he calls the “Five Concurrent Themes of Success.”

The Five Concurrent Themes of Success

The first of Mr. Graham’s Five Concurrent Themes of Success is risk management itself, the recognition of risk and delineating its frequency, severity, and how much time there is to contemplate a task prior to taking action. Once all of these have been made, a district is obligated to act on them, which leads to the second theme: mobilization of a system.

One of Mr. Graham’s notable qualities as a speaker is his ability to pare down complex terms and concepts. He informs the audience of what he means by system from the context of risk management, as a “particular way of accomplishing something.” He poses a series of questions that every organization ought to ask: “Was there a designed system in place? Was it up to date? Was it being implemented?” These are the questions that can assist a district in preventing tragedies from occurring.

Mr. Graham addresses the uninformed mindset that many outside the profession of risk management subscribe to: that some tragedies are inevitable and cannot be prevented. He insists this is clearly untrue and underscores the point further by enumerating different, high-risk industries such as aviation, timber operations, constructions, and long-haul driving, and how brand leaders within those industries have notable track records in safety in spite of the myriad of risks they face. He tells the audience that a well-designed system that is regularly updated and fully put into practice will never fail. From the context of Colorado special districts, systems consist of policies and procedures, and are the responsibility of the organization’s executive.

Mr. Graham then introduces customer service as the third theme and how government agencies often underestimate its importance. He briefly provides a three-point guide to establishing loyal clientele before leading the audience to the fourth theme, accountability. He attests that the lack of accountability has often been the leading cause of tragedies, such as the Rampart Scandal in Los Angeles. Mr. Graham notes that truly accountable executives will ensure that there is a discipline system as well as a robust audit system in place, and once that is accomplished, should then promote exceptional women and men who can enforce those systems. The lack of accountability results in mediocrity and a deterioration of integrity.

Integrity is Mr. Graham’s fifth and final theme of success. He identifies ethical behavior as a manifestation of integrity, and that its loss directly results in loss of public trust. He tells the audience that these themes, approached in tandem like a checklist, will ensure that things are done right and your district will stay out of trouble. Mr. Graham anchors his presentation by providing a quote from Dr. Archand Zeller: “The errors that [man] will make can be predicted from the errors he has made.” The presentation then covers risk/frequency analysis and other strategies before inviting the audience to pose any questions they may have about the material.

We hope you’ve found this summary of Mr. Gordon Graham’s presentation helpful in your own district’s risk management endeavors. Mr. Graham is slated to present in this year’s Annual Fire Chiefs Conference, and we’ll be sure to let you know further details.

Pool members are eligible for a 5% group discount on Lexipol’s products and services, including its customizable state-specific fire policy content and training system. Additionally, members can apply their Safety Grant funds toward 50% of the cost.

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