Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Expect the Unexpected
Oh yeah sure. Paul Harvey wasn't always the 'rest of the story' likeable coot. Back in the 1950's he had a Geraldo streak. Paul was planning an expose on lax security at military bases. Setting up the money shot, Paul tried one night to sneak onto a military base, and got caught quicker than a blind shoplifter. It turned out OK though; they didn't waterboard him or anything. So why do people attempt really dumb things? It's because they don't expect to fail.
Years after Paul made a monkey of himself, an actual monkey was busy inventing the concept of Trick For Treat. Was a nice day following a stretch of icky weather at the Omaha Zoo. The Orangutans got out of their enclosure. They went to the trees over by the Elephant area and were having a swell time. One of those apes was a young male named Fu Manchu. So the keepers finally lured the Orangutans back to cages using delicious monkey treats, and the humans got a big butt chewing about latching the gate correctly.
Now the very next pretty day, same thing happened again exactly the same way. Only difference was bigger butt chewing. Third time, Fu Manchu got busted. He was carefully looking first to see if no humans were around, then he jammed the gate up. Then Fu pulled from his mouth a bit of wire, which he used to trip the gate latch.
That was 1968. All the world's primatologists would've said an Orangutan is incapable of such behavior. Primates can't be sneaky, they can't hide things, they can't pick locks, they can't plan like that. Primates aren't sneaky; they've got the IQ of a three year old human. I must as an aside say that any primatologist who thinks a toddler isn't sneaky must be childless.
Know why Fu Manchu could do things nobody expected? Cause he didn't spend much time talking with primatologists.
In Engineering project planning, there's a thing called FMEA; failure mode effect analysis. What you do is sit around a conference room drinking institutional grade coffee. Oh yeah, coffee sold to institutional accounts has a higher level of Robusta beans than Arabica. Very interesting story, but I don't want to get sidetracked here.
So what you're doing is making up worst case scenarios for the proposed project. That's the only part requires imagination; afterwards math takes over. For each scenario, a likelihood number is applied. Then a 'how bad would it be if that happened' number. Lastly 'would people get hurt?' number. You run them together and FMEA tells you what you better have a backup plan for.
Yes kids, that's exactly how we science giant biz wiz types do it.
There's just one thing I can't figger out. How come nobody at BP knows what a FMEA is? I'm not one to judge, but looks like somebody missed something obvious, that would apply to all offshore drilling rigs.
"What happens if the well springs a leak?"
"We've got a shutoff valve."
How come nobody asked what would happen if the shutoff valve failed? Did they run out of coffee or something?