Read your April editorial (Close Encounters of the Cacti Kind) yesterday and I must share some comments with you. I am sorry you had some painful experiences while attempting to enjoy Arizona’s vast beautiful and magnificent out-of-doors. Your experience, however, did cause me to envision a “Tender Foot” making his way through the territory.

It was somewhat amusing to read your account, including your “crime of fashion” and your various mistakes. It is important for one to recognize that desert plants have adapted quite well to their harsh environment in order to survive. Desert plants almost all have built-in defense mechanisms, such as needle-like spines, rough serrated edges, or thorns. I am thankful you did not have a close encounter of the personal kind with a cactus called “cholla” (pronounced choi-ya.) Some will say that the cholla nodes (oblong round portions of the plant) will jump at a near-by pedestrian, two legged or four legged, and hitch a ride. While it is incorrect to say the cholla jumps, the spines are ultra sharp and have little hooks at their ends – the better to catch on for a ride, and the more difficult and painful is the removal. The nodes easily separate from the plant and embed their spines in you.

The last observation I need to make involves navigation. As an experienced hiker, I can attest to the ease with which one can become disoriented, confused, or just plain lost. Experience and practice help to hone one’s senses to the point that orienteering becomes second nature.

Allow me to offer a “new” model for use in protecting one’s self from making errors, or at least reduce the likelihood of making an error in judgment. I call the model:

“The Four A’s of Excellence” (or of Safety)

Anticipate — ask, what could possibly go wrong, and/or how could this be done better

Assume nothing — check or verify what you believe to be true. Assumptions raise the risk potential by one to two orders of magnitude.

Adjust continually — resist the temptation to “plow ahead,” be bull-headed, and work your plan no matter what. Remember: no plan survives contact with the enemy. (a military theorem)

Allow no distractions — when you are distracted, you are less capable, less focused, less proficient and that leads to errors

I came up with this concept some years ago. I wanted something simple that could easily be committed to memory, and practiced daily. The Four A’s of Excellence was in response to realizing that safety and risk management is a people-oriented process. That is, people make decisions all the time — and unfortunately, people get injured unnecessarily because of the decisions they or their colleagues make. Often, in spite of regulations or procedures, or even the law (do you drive over the speed limit from time to time?) people’s decisions result in negative consequences.

The challenge, then, is how to get people to be more self-governing, less prone to making poor/risky decisions? You can’t make a rule for every action and behavior… and at times, people ignore the rules for comfort, convenience, personal gain, or to gain peer acceptance. Hence, the Four A’s of Excellence was born.