Looking Back To Move Forward – The Risk Analysis Legacy of The TITANIC

Looking Back To Move Forward – The Risk Analysis Legacy of The TITANIC

Feb 20th, 2013

Looking Back To Move Forward – The Risk Analysis Legacy of The TITANIC: Riskope thanks Evelyn Ramsey for this interesting post.

This post is less a history of the disaster of the Titanic and more an insight into the incident’s legacy. Indeed the incident left to future risk analysis professionals a number of unsolved questions. We used public sources for all data and information and we identify this where relevant.

Looking Back To Move Forward – The Risk Analysis Legacy of The TITANIC

The events of April 14th 1912 are infamous. As a matter of fact the Titanic hit an iceberg on her maiden voyage and 2 hours and 40 minutes later she sank.

Photo Sipa Press Rex Features

The Titanic Photo: Sipa Press/Rex Features

She left 1,503 passengers and crew dead. The unthinkable happened to the unsinkable. We should note that the White Star Line company never used the ‘unsinkable’ phrase. The term came-up during the post sinking press coverage.

There are various contributing facts that to the tragic, but likely avoidable, loss of life that night:

  • Too few lifeboats available; only enough to accommodate 1200 passengers on a ship transporting 2200.
  • Despite warnings of potential ice flow the captain was instructed to increase speed
  • The lookout had not been provided with binoculars
  • The crew were not confident in the use of the brand new on-board wireless system



Lack of risk analysis

All of these factors are the result of money management being above risk analysis in the hierarchy of ship building. This was common practice in the early 1900s as competition became tight and shipping companies fought for passengers. However, the Titanic disaster led to an investigation of procedures and decision making. That investigation transformed the ship building industry and almost created the risk analysis industry overnight.

In his essay “The Titanic Disaster; An Enduring example of Money Management v Risk Management” Roy Brander (P. Eng) states that “most of the problems all came from a larger systemic problem. The owners and operators of steamships had…taken larger and larger risks to save money”. Indeed it seems barely credible today that such purely financial reasoning would override common sense decisions.

The case of the lifeboats (or lack thereof) is the perfect of example of how the owners designed the Titanic with profit, not safety in mind. The concept was that the lifeboats took up too much deck space. Indeed, on a travelling monolith like the Titanic, space was of a premium. The decision to allow passengers more space to enjoy a daily promenade or to play deck games complied with regulations. Indeed, shipbuilders had the strongest voice in deciding the regulation of lifeboats.

Lack of independent guidance with regards to such vitally important risk management decisions meant the validation of mistakes or even just plain bad decisions. In the aftermath of the tragedy the rules regarding lifeboat provision changed overnight. Instead of the money management based formula a more simple idea – a seat for everyone – became the rule. This legacy of the Titanic disaster remains “never…questioned” to this day.

Concerns ignored

The ship’s owners swept aside other risk management concerns. As a matter of fact, one claim was that management instructed the captain to speed through an area prone to icebergs. The idea was to break existing Atlantic crossing records. The kudos of having such a record to the Titanic’s name would be worth thousands in extra bookings. Thus management ignored the risks of navigating through ice flow at speed.

In a bid to seem future proof the owners ensured a the installation of a new wireless system in time for the maiden voyage. However, due to poor training and untested procedure “not all warnings reached the bridge” and later SOS  calls from the Titanic were missed. With the vast technological advances this and last century have witnessed it seems unlikely this would happen again. What were applications only available to the military are now available to the average person, with technology and communications choices being wide and affordable. Training is also now a big part of risk analysis implementation. Procedures are put in place at every step to ensure mistakes are picked up immediately and resolved without delay. That is paired with more stringent procedures when it comes to checking new equipment and staff training.

Risk management was ignored in a myriad of ways. Those apply to the building as well as the execution of the Titanic. The desire to make a profit motivated them. But the legacy of independent checks, regulation and lessons-learned are still in place to this day. As Ray Brander states, the disaster “ripped away blindfolds and changed dozens of attitudes, practices and standards almost literally overnight”.

Closing note

Riskope are proud to continue this code of independent risk analysis, working with businesses to make the correct decision in difficult circumstances whilst steering your projects across an ocean of uncertainties. Contact Us to discover how we can help your business navigate towards reasonable, sustainable, rational solutions compliant with your tolerance and acceptability criteria.

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Category: Consequences, Mitigations, Risk analysis, Risk management, Tolerance/Acceptability

One response to “Looking Back To Move Forward – The Risk Analysis Legacy of The TITANIC”

  1. transportation risk management shelby township mi says:

    great site thanks for sharing

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