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Incorporating Risk in Corps Decision Making – Two USACE Manuals Now Published

Published July 21, 2017
Planning Manual Part 2 Cover

Planning Manual Part 2 Cover

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) The Institute for Water Resources recently published two new manuals for Corps staff and other stakeholders on how to consider risk in USACE activities. These documents, “Principles of Risk Analysis for Water Resources” and “Planning Manual Part II: Risk-Informed Planning” expand upon and update prior resources and provide fresh thinking on risk-informed practices at the Corps.  With these new documents available, Susan B. Hughes, Deputy, Planning Community of Practice, USACE Headquarters, said “In recent years the Corps’ consideration and analysis of risk has evolved considerably, which leads to better analyses and smarter planning processes. These two manuals reflect our ongoing commitment to better understanding and incorporating risk in our work. I hope our colleagues and stakeholders will read and refer to these documents in planning and other activities.”

Principles of Risk Analysis for Water Resources

 “Principles of Risk Analysis for Water Resources” addresses all aspects of risk analysis practice for the Corps, including terminology, characterizing uncertainty, risk management, risk communication, risk assessment tools, and decision making.  The document updates the original “Guidelines for Risk and Uncertainty Analysis in Water Resources Planning” published by the USACE Institute for Water Resources in 1992. It was prepared by Charles Yoe, Ph.D., Notre Dame of Maryland University, with assistance from David Moser and Mr. Brian Harper, formerly of IWR and now Chief, Civil Planning Branch, Regional Planning & Environmental Center, SWD.

In its Civil Works program, the Corps must manage risk over the entire life cycle of a project, from its conception during planning, through preconstruction engineering and design, construction, operation and maintenance, and the final disposition and decommissioning of the project. The manual represents the latest evolution of thought on the USACE approach to risk analysis emphasizing the USACE risk framework (see diagram).The manual consists of nine chapters and three appendices. It is intended to help its audiences to:

  • Describe the need to manage project risks throughout the entire project life cycle.

  • Distinguish between risks of loss and risks of potential gain.

  • Differentiate knowledge uncertainty from natural variability.

  • Identify the major components of the USACE risk management framework.

  • Discuss some of the specific challenges associated with risk communication.

  • Discuss the four steps that comprise a risk assessment.

  • List several examples of qualitative and quantitative risk assessment tools.

  • Identify the key components of a risk-informed planning process.

  • Use risk information to better inform the USACE decision-making processes.

The full manual is available for download at the IWR Library

Planning Manual Part II: Risk-Informed Planning

IWR also released “Planning Manual Part II: Risk-Informed Planning” as a companion to the “Planning Manual” (1996). While the 1996 manual remains the foundation document for the USACE planning process and remains a timely and valuable resource, this new manual looks to the USACE planning process for the early 21st century. It reflects the emergence of risk analysis as an effective framework for making decisions under uncertainty. The document was prepared by Charles Yoe, Ph.D., Notre Dame of Maryland University.

The new manual merges risk-informed decision making and the continuously evolving practice of water resources planning. Risk-informed planning pays careful attention to uncertainty, and it uses a set of risk performance measures, together with other considerations, to inform planning. Risk-informed planning incorporates the USACE risk management model into the USACE planning model.

By design, the manual focuses on how to practice planning. It is not about policies, programs, budgets, or politics, which are all subject to change. It uses the same six-step planning process used since 1983 but repackages them into four tasks and two ongoing processes (see diagram). Risk-informed planning has four major tasks with stakeholders at their center in a continuous process of evidence gathering and uncertainty reduction that is united by a risk management orientation.

For the most part, the manual embraces common USACE practice, but the author emphasizes that risk-informed planning cannot be done the way planning was practiced in the past. At times, this manual pushes planners to expand their approach to familiar tasks, consistent with the Planning Modernization initiative that has propelled the planning process forward. Among others, that initiative called upon the Corps to “balance the level of uncertainty and risk with the level of detail of the study.” Planning Modernization (aka SMART Planning) emphasizes using just the information needed to make the next planning decision. Because planning is naturally iterative, there is always another opportunity to revise a decision during the planning process. The challenge in a world of limited time and budget is to efficiently reduce uncertainty by gathering only the evidence needed to make the next planning decision and to manage the risks that result from doing so without more complete information.

The manual discusses how planners must deal with two levels of uncertainty: macro-level and micro-level uncertainty, and uncertainty comprises knowledge uncertainty and natural variability. A risk-informed planning process, through four main tasks, is required to deal effectively with uncertainty. Risk-informed planning addresses study area risks, study risks, and outcome risks. The author further discusses how communicating about risk, especially residual risk, introduces a special challenge to stakeholder involvement.

The full manual is available for download at the IWR Library

For More Information:

Principles of Risk Analysis for Water Resources

 Planning Manual Part II: Risk-Informed Planning

Planning Manual

 USACE Risk Analysis Gateway, for more information on assessing, managing, and communicating risk.

 USACE Planning Community Toolbox, for more information on policy, guidance, processes, and tools that are used every day in planning.