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The Role of Root Cause Analysis in Public Safety ERM Programs


Risk Manager

This chapter provides an overview of how root cause analysis (RCA) techniques can be used by public safety and law enforcement agencies to support their enterprise risk management (ERM) programs. It provides an introduction to several of the more commonly used tools, and uses a series of case studies to illustrate how these can be applied in the public safety environment.


Public safety agencies (such as local police departments) have a long tradition of operational risk management – after all, almost everything they do has an enhanced level of risk associated with it. Police officers respond to situations where emotions are often running high, and where the threat of physical violence is never far from the surface. It is perhaps not surprising that conversations around risk often gravitate toward issues of officer and public safety, and rarely toward more mundane issues of business process or budget risk.[1]

In many ways, ERM is a natural fit for public safety agencies due to their risk-aware culture. One of the largest challenges in adopting ERM within a law enforcement agency is the need to redirect police officers' natural inclination to immediately solve the risk, rather than methodically analyzing it to understand its true nature. This is perhaps not surprising given the way most police officers are trained: observe a problem, evaluate the options, and then apply the best solution as rapidly as possible. Root cause analysis is one of the tools that can be used to overcome this hurdle, and it provides a means for law enforcement agencies to achieve even greater social returns on investment than would be otherwise possible.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

Root cause analysis has often been viewed as a tool best applied following significant or serious losses; it is typically applied to understand why risk events occurred, and to provide insight into future preventive actions. More recently, ERM practitioners have begun to recognize the value of using root cause analysis (RCA) tools and techniques as part of a proactive risk management approach. By understanding the root causes of their potential risks, organizations are better able to build strategies and plans that proactively address these risks and support the planned exploitation of opportunities.

Root cause analysis defines a loosely grouped collection of analytical tools, many of which have evolved from the fields of process safety and engineering. While the majority of these tools have traditionally been used to evaluate postevent losses, in many cases they are also capable of supporting proactive future risk planning. Both contexts will be discussed here in terms of how they can be used to support an enterprise risk management program, with the key being to remember that many of the approaches can be used in both reactive and proactive modes. Common RCA Tools lists 10 of the more common RCA tools in everyday use, with the first six of these discussed in the order they are listed.

Common RCA Tools

  • [1] M. Burczycka, "Police Resources in Canada," Catalogue no. 85-225-X, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, 2013. For a discussion of crime rates in Canada, see "Indicators of Wellbeing in Canada: Security – Crime Rates," at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ?iid=57 (last modified November 7,2013).
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