In 2011, I co-founded what would become one of the largest school-based positive behavior summits in the Midwest. As my partners and I crafted legal contracts with the conference center, vendors and presenters, we were introduced to the term “Force Majeure” which is very significant in Wisconsin in February. Ever since, I’ve considered force majeure as it relates to school safety – and that inevitably leads into chaos theory. WHAT IS FORCE MAJEURE? Force Majeure is French for “superior force”. Force majeure refers to a clause that is included in contracts to remove liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes that interrupt the expected course of events and restrict participants from fulfilling obligations. In other words, if solar flare fried our electrical grid, we wouldn’t be on the hook to pay conference presenters their speaking fees as Tuesday’s conference wasn’t going happen as the communication, power and transportation structures largely left people with few options other than to stay in their homes or hoof it to the nearest supply depot. WAS 9/11 FORCE MAJEURE? Yes. New York, for example, hadn’t encountered a terrorist attack via commercial aircraft – ever! And, nobody had experienced all commercial planes grounded across the nation for days. If you couldn’t fly your shipment of XYZ from Boston to LA in 24 hours, as promised, then the force majeure clause would have been activated and you wouldn’t be held at fault for not fulfilling the contract. CAN FEMA DECLARE FORCE MAJEURE? I don’t think so. And, if FEMA has this ability, it hasn’t exercised it. But, it would be helpful for strengthening rescue forces during sentinel events, such as flooding. For example, in 2017, the nonprofit Cajun Navy Relief volunteered boats, trucks, food, manpower and other resources to rescue people from flooded areas. FEMA was largely a passive partner in this process – not overtly assisting Cajun Navy Relief in most instances, but also not a barrier to their interface into the government rescue system. This changed with Hurricane Florence in 2018 as FEMA was significantly less cooperative with nonprofits such as Triton Relief Group. If FEMA declared a state of force majeure, however, that act might clear the way for nonprofit rescue forces to play bigger roles, and in expedited fashion, with large scale rescues. WHAT DOES FORCE MAJEURE MEAN FOR SCHOOL SAFETY? This is a slippery interface. First, a declaration of force majeure might convey to some that the situation if insurmountable and they will simply surrender. On the other hand, force majeure can acknowledge that the state of similarity has officially transitioned into chaos – and actually embracing chaos can help people narrow down and make decisions that might save lives. FOLLOW DR. PERRODIN: Twitter @SafetyPhD and subscribe to The Safety Doc YouTube channel & Apple Podcasts. SAFETY DOC WEBSITE & BLOG: The Safety Doc Podcast is hosted & produced by David Perrodin, PhD. ENDORSEMENTS. Opinions are those of the host & guests. The show adheres to nondiscrimination principles while seeking to bring forward productive discourse & debate on topics relevant to personal or institutional safety. Email David: This is Episode #100.  LOOKING FOR DR. TIMOTHY LUDWIG, PHD? Dr. Perrodin’s “Safety Doc Podcast” negotiates school and community safety. To be informed about industrial safety, please contact Appalachian State University Professor Dr. Timothy Ludwig, PhD, at

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