Posts made in April, 2012

Failure is inevitable

Posted by on Apr 23, 2012 in Facilities Management, Leadership, Training | 3 comments

In the mission critical environments industry, we often talk about that “failure is not an option” – and for the most part, we believe that and work toward that goal.  But the stark reality is that failure is inevitable.  At some point in the future, everything will fail.  We do not have unlimited resources, nor do we have perfect engineering or flawless operations.  Whether we look at air travel, nuclear power plants, or even the brakes on our cars, failure occurs.  We build backup systems for those inevitable failures, but even the backup systems will fail.  I have seen quadruple backup processes fail.  The only thing we can do is try to mitigate the results of failure and/or how often it occurs. So how do we cope with inherently dangerous or expensive processes and their inevitable failure?  In some cases, we deem failure an “acceptable risk.”  We calculate the chance of failure as Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF), the likelihood of an event is 1 in 200,000 years, 100-year flood plains, et cetera.  The number of deaths per passenger mile on commercial airlines in the United States between 1995 and 2000 was about three deaths per 10 billion passenger miles.  Not bad, but not perfect either – three people died per 10 billion passenger miles.  Is that an acceptable risk?  Probably not if you’re one of the three.  But even in the highly regulated, inspected and trained world of commercial air travel, failures occur.  What I wonder is, If we doubled the resources that we use in that industry for safety, would we see a reduction to 1.5 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles?  What if we spent ten times what we do now?  Would the statistic be reduced to 0.3 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles?  At what point do we run out of resources, and can we ever get it to zero failures?  The answer is no, there will always be something unforeseen – just ask the management of the Fukushima nuclear power plants....

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