What is Community Risk Management (CRM)?

CRM is a method villages, towns, and cities can use to assess potential gains and losses of just about any proposal they may encounter.

In fields like fire protection, banking, community development, medicine, insurance, and many others, the term “risk management” is a familiar one. The focus here is on the word “community,” how risk management techniques can be applied to issues facing local government.

The basic idea is simple enough: take an issue that needs resolving, make a list of the component parts of that issue – the risk factors – then prioritize them according to the degree of potential for harm or loss they represent.

For example, if the issue is reducing risk of pedestrian harm at an intersection, a prioritized list of factors might look like this.

  1. Length of the pedestrian crosswalk.
    2. Vehicle’s speed.
    3. Visibility drivers have of pedestrians.
    4. Visibility pedestrians have of vehicles.
    5. Number of vehicles per hour.

In this list, 1 and 2 are shown as most significant – in practice, the list may be prioritized differently for a specific intersection. The next step is to suggest ways of reducing risk for the most significant factors, then to ask what the positives and negatives – gains and losses – of each proposed solution are.

Shortening crosswalk length may reduce risk of harm to pedestrians, but there may be design or cost obstacles.

Reducing vehicle speed may reduce risk of harm, but may present obstacles such as changing legal speed limits, or installing traffic calming devices.

Each potential solution – with its possible losses – must be compared with the perceived risk of harm to a pedestrian in the crosswalk. The goal is to choose the greatest gain with the least loss.

CRM is not an automatic “plug-in-the-numbers-and-out-pops-the-answer” program, but it does offer several significant benefits: a clear path, and a reasoned approach to problem solving – one that more accurately identifies potentially useful solutions. Additionally, CRM offers a visible process that can increase government transparency and accountability.