Disasters
Titanic (1912)

Forget the apparent romance of Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet. There’s a lot for us to learn from the Titanic, a disaster that could have been prevented by Titanic’s owners White Star.

RMS Titanic is possibly the most famous passenger liner of all time.  Tragically, that’s because it’s owners hailed it as “unsinkable” before it sank on it’s maiden voyage.   On route from England to New York City, it hit an iceberg on 15 April 1912 and sank, drowning 1,517 people.

Despite being made of 70,000 tonnes of steel, Titanic’s design was supposed to make it “pretty unsinkable” due to the compartmentalised nature of it’s hull and its innovate rudder.   The claim was changed by the press when they dropped the word “pretty” before “unsinkable”.

It’s unclear why the iceberg the Titanic struck was not avoided.  Ice was a common seasonal hazard in the Atlantic Ocean.  Many ships had reported icebergs in the path Titanic sailed.  On 11 April, 4 days before disaster struck, Titanic received 6 warnings from other ships and more followed every day.  These warnings would have been received by radio, logged in the radio book and passed to officers on the bridge, so it’s not clear why the Captain did not change course during this high profile, maiden voyage.

More lifeboats “should” have been provided.  Titanic actually provided more lifeboats than regulations of the time required, by providing 16 of them.  However, design engineer Alexander Carlisle advised White Star during the design phase that they could and should install 64 lifeboats.  Carlisle’s recommendation was based on the fact that 16 lifeboats had capacity to save 1,100 people, while Titanic would carry up to 4,600 people.  Installing 64 lifeboats would have provided capacity to save 4,000 – more than the number of people on board – but White Star chose not to install them.  Speculation is that they believed the Titanic to be unsinkable and wanted more space on their luxurious liner.   The protocol of “women and children first” meant many more men died.

 

What can business continuity planners learn from this tragedy?

  • There’s lots of information on Titanic.  Check out our bookshop.
  • Risks are often known but not acknowledged in a manner provoking action.  White Star never claimed Titanic was actually unsinkable but may have taken less care regarding evacuation once this notion became prevalent.  Carlisle advised White Star they needed more lifeboats but his concerns were not considered significant enough to act upon.  Consider your processes for assessing risk, hearing information as warnings, and how people are empowered to escalate a serious concern.
  • Take action when warnings are significant.  Titanic knew there was a danger of ice but appeared to take no action.  Consider offering standardised (but flexible) protocols to ensure appropriate action must be taken on receipt of a warning.   Individuals at all levels can be empowered to make sensible decisions to protect life, revenue and reputation.
  • Recognize that a damaged reputation is often not the end.  White Star continued after Titanic, merging with Cunard – but retaining the White Star identity – in 1934.  In 2005 White Star’s name was replaced as the group became known collectively as Carnival.
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