Engineers as the agents of evolution
Archives For Risk
What is risk, how dow we categorise it and deal with it.
Process is no substitute for paying attention
As Weick has pointed out, to manage the unexpected we need to be reliably mindful, not reliably mindless. Obvious as that truism may be, those who invest heavily in plans, procedures, process and policy also end up perpetuating and reinforcing a whole raft of expectations, and thus investing in an organisational culture of mindlessness rather than mindfulness.
John Adams has an interesting take on the bureaucratic approach to risk management in his post reducing zero risk.
The problem is that each decision to further reduce an already acceptably low risk is always defended as being ‘cheap’, but when you add up the increments it’s the death of a thousand cuts, because no one ever considers the aggregated opportunity cost of course.
This remorseless slide of our public and private institutions into a hysteria of risk aversion seems to me to be be due to an inherent societal psychosis that nations sharing the english common law tradition are prone to. At best we end up with pointless safety theatre, at worst we end up bankrupting our culture.
The above info graphic courtesy of Jeff Masters Wunderblog blog says it all, 6 out of the 13 most destructive superstorms have occurred after 1998.
Interestingly the study is circa 2011 but I’ve seen no reflection in Australia on the uncomfortable fact that the study found, i.e that all we are doing with such schemes is shifting the death rate to an older cohort. Of course all the adults can sit back and congratulate themselves on a job well done, except it simply doesn’t work, and worse yet sucks resources and attention away from searching for more effective remedies.
In essence we’ve done nothing as a society to address teenage driving related deaths, safety theatre of the worst sort…
And not quite as simple as you think…
The testimony of Michael Barr, in the recent Oklahoma Toyota court case highlighted problems with the design of Toyota’s watchdog timer for their Camry ETCS-i throttle control system, amongst other things, which got me thinking about the pervasive role that watchdogs play in safety critical systems.
Why risk communication is tricky…
An interesting post by Ross Anderson on the problems of risk communication, in the wake of the savage storm that the UK has just experienced. Doubly interesting to compare the UK’s disaster communication during this storm to that of the NSW governments during our recent bushfires.
Or ‘On the breakdown of Bayesian techniques in the presence of knowledge singularities’
One of the abiding problems of safety critical ‘first of’ systems is that you face, as David Collingridge observed, a double bind dilemma:
- Initially an information problem because ‘real’ safety issues (hazards) and their risk cannot be easily identified or quantified until the system is deployed, but
- By the time the system is deployed you now face a power (inertia) problem, that is control or change is difficult once the system is deployed or delivered. Eliminating a hazard is usually very difficult and we can only mitigate them in some fashion.