The high-consequence, low-likelihood nature of rare events makes them unexpectedly and disproportionately impactful.
Rare events can usually be identified within the seven categories of crisis: economic, informational, physical (key plants and facilities), human resources, reputational, psychopathic acts, and natural disasters.
There are three potential indicators that an event may be a rare event.
The first indicator is examining the frequency of an event's past occurrence. From the interpretive perspective, we can say that an event with a low likelihood of occurrence is one that should be considered rare if, indeed, it were to occur. For many events, we can look backward and determine the frequency of a class of similar events' past occurrence and feel reasonably sure that it will not happen with regularity in the future.
The second indicator of a rare event is how humans treat a potential event once it has been identified. By definition, rare events are events that are infrequent in their occurrence.
People in power often believe the event (a rare event) will never happen; if it does, they have the control to deal with such events just like any other emergency. People in power have access to corrective resources. Biases such as over-confidence are also in play.
On the other hand, people who are most likely negatively impacted by a potential rare event will want protection. The need for protection usually plays out as a demand for more legislative or regulatory protection against the event. Outside stakeholders also become involved if there is a disproportional or unequal impact and join the lobbying efforts of those most likely affected but not in power.
The third indicator of a rare event is 'crisis mode.' Sometimes we simply hear the term. Sometimes we move into formal procedures. But when you see the shift from normal mode to crisis mode and the corresponding need to move back to a normal state, you have yet another indicator that you are a good candidate for classification as a rare event.
Communicate with FINESSE
We know to treat rare events differently. However, technical professionals and communication specialists often struggle when we start to dig into the details of what a rare event means. Historical frequency, human reaction to potential vulnerabilities, and our connective language are three indicators of a rare event. Plan your analysis and communication accordingly.