On August 23, 2011, an earthquake placed a crack in the Washington Monument. This was well covered by the news. What you likely don’t know or don’t remember is that this earthquake’s epicenter was nearly a hundred miles away in Louisa County, Virginia, home to the North Anna Nuclear Power Station. On that day, the engineers in the control room placed the plant on the second of a four level emergency classification, as they ran diagnostics on the reactors and let the systems switch to diesel power generation to protect the public and the plant from any potential damage. Less than six months after the Fukushima meltdown triggered by an earthquake, the North Anna Power Station’s reactors were taken offline with an abnormal level of normalcy. There was no shouting, no running, or white knuckles in the control room. In the fall of 2014, I had the pleasure of touring this facility and witnessing firsthand the professionalism that rigorous training has instilled in the workers, on what can only be described as a much more routine day.
How did the employees at North Anna come to respond to an earthquake as if it was part of their everyday? The plant invests heavily in training. In nuclear power plants, control room employees go through a six weeks of work, one week of training year round. Simulations cover the everyday mundane, like shift changes and bathroom breaks, to the black swan events of a full-scale meltdown. These simulations run the employees through the same checklists and procedures that govern a multitude of scenarios. This provides the control room staff with repetitions, empowers the group to communicate efficiently and effectively, and it facilitates calm decision making and execution in the stress of an actual emergency.
Analysts and associates at law firms and investment banks may not have the safety of a community in their hands, yet they still face the stress of deadlines, demanding bosses and clients, and the fear of losing the firm or the client millions of dollars by making a mistake. Just like in North Anna, investment banks’ and law firms’ internal mistakes can be reduced with proper training. There is no way, and in fact no need, for a week of training for every six weeks of work for attorneys and bankers. There is a need for getting the junior staff well trained prior to facing the uncontrolled environment of the real world.
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