Planning for the worst case?

Living in California, I think it may be in my best interest to consider the worst-case scenario.

–a person who shall remain anonymous

I’ve previously mentioned my issue with planning for the worst case, but since ‘worst case planning’ comes up so often, the topic bears some further discussion. The essential problem is assuming that planning for the worst case is merely planning for the most likely case taken to a greater extent. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. The optimum solution in worst case planning may actually be a less, or even least, optimal solution for the most likely case.

The questions of competing probabilities and definitional issues rear their ugly heads again in this decision process. As an example, the worst case scenario that people imagine in a home defense scenario consists of multiple intruders, armed with projectile weapons, with their weapons in hand, ready to shoot the defender in reaction time. While that’s certainly possible, it’s definitely not the most likely case, if the bump in the night is really a burglar. And even the definition of ‘worst possible case’ is open to question in the context of home defense, as is the definition in many contexts.

The question I posed previously was “Is ‘the worst possible case’ having a dangerous armed intruder in your house or shooting and killing a family member by mistake?” Therein lays the definitional issue. The statistical/tactical issue is that the most likely case is probably a lone intruder, not armed with a projectile weapon, who is preoccupied with stealing your stuff and not waiting in ambush for you.

Let’s address the statistical/tactical issue since I’ve already mentioned the definitional issue. In the past, I have, in fact, planned for the worst possible burglary case envisioned by people. My plan for a late night, already in bed, worst case scenario was as follows:

  1. Put on my M17A1 protective mask
  2. Place my pistol (then a 1911A1) in hand
  3. Open the bedroom door slightly
  4. Pick up an M7 CS grenade and pull the pin, using a small hook I had placed on the door frame
  5. Have my then wife grab onto my clothing, close her eyes, and stop breathing
  6. Roll the grenade out into the kitchen and let it fill the house with CS gas
    1. My house was small and
    2. would have completely filled with CS gas within a few seconds
  7. Go out the door and move toward the back door as an exit
  8. Shoot anyone who was in my way in the head, whether they were standing or laying on the ground prostrate from the effects of the gas
    1. I’ve been in a confined cloud of CS from a grenade; it’s incredibly incapacitating.
    2. That’s where I got the idea.
    3. It’s not like the CS chamber most veterans have been exposed to.
  9. Exit the house, regroup, and plan my next move to a safer location

CS grenade

I was certain of the efficacy of this plan, since even a hardened group of assassins would be unlikely to expect a counterattack that would have made John Wick look like an Eagle Scout. However, I did consider that there were several downsides to the plan.

  • Most likely, the grenade would have set the house on fire and burned it down. My landlord would have been unhappy and the couple who lived upstairs might have burned to death.
  • The authorities probably would probably take a dim view of my executing a bunch of people, even if they did have nefarious intent.
  • If my then wife had been accidently overcome by the gas, I would have been faced with the choice of finding her, picking her up, and carrying her out of the house, or leaving her behind with the rest of the deaders while the house was burning. (I would have carried her out, but that is a decision, not a given, in a serious house fire.)

I had also planned a lower intensity response for the more likely scenario of one guy with a screwdriver stealing my stuff. That plan was to challenge him from whatever concealment was available and tell him to get out. If he took one step toward me, I would have shot him. If I could see he had a projectile weapon, in hand or not, I would have shot him immediately.

Note that even in a simple scenario, there’s a decision tree (if, then, else). Those kinds of decisions are best made ahead of time. Making decisions before the situation arises is part of the Orient phase of the OODA process. Forward looking decisions are what allow you to speed up decision-making in the moment, not trying to think faster on the spot. Trying to construct a decision process in the midst of an incident will force you back into the Orient phase and actually slow down your decision-making.

OODA.Boyd.svg

The issue with worst case planning is that it usually ignores both the direct and opportunity costs implicit in the plan. Worst case planning also frequently lacks any branching or contingency aspects, which is not the way life works. Consider carefully ALL the ramifications of worst case planning in light of most likely case possibilities. What you may find is that it’s best to plan and prepare for the most likely case. Then, think of how that plan can be adapted to a much smaller probability of the worst case scenario.

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6 responses

  1. Good thoughts on the subject Claude, as I would expect.

    I had a similar plan to your CS grenade counter-attack at many points in my life, however mine involved OC aerosol grenades, or when I had them available a OC stingball grenade, both of which would be non-flammable and leave my house or apartment intact.

    1. This was circa 1982, so we didn’t have OC. I totally agree that now OC would be much preferable. OC makes it possible to flood the house without burning it down. The invaders are screwed.

  2. What? No M17A1 protective mask or weapon for her?

    1. It was my issue mask. No mask available for her. She wasn’t much into handguns, either.

  3. Wow – you better be pretty sure it really is the “worst-case” before lighting off CS gas. Even if you didn’t burn down the house, the CA gas probably ruins everything cloth in the house – furniture, drapes, clothes, and mattresses.

    1. Exactly. But in a ‘worst case’ scenario, I think it would have been quite effective. That’s my point; defining the worst case.

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