Magazine article Risk Management

Spotlight Issue: Introduction

Magazine article Risk Management

Spotlight Issue: Introduction

Article excerpt

For Second Officer David Blair, the chance to act as a commander on the inaugural passenger voyage of the RMS Titanic was supposed to be a major event in his career Blair had sailed on the ship during its short trip from Belfast to Southampton, and he could just imagine what it was going to be like to make the trans-Atlantic journey on the supposedly unsinkable ship. Mere days before the Titanic set sail, however; White Star Line, the ship's owners, removed Blair from the crew in favor Henry Wilde, a more experienced senior officer from the Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic. Bitterly disappointed, Blair stepped off, but in the last-minute shuffle of crew, he forgot to turn in a small, metal key thought to be the key to the crow's nest binoculars locker Without that key, the ship's lookouts did not have access to the field glasses commonly used during those pre-sonar days to spot icebergs.

Thus did the Titanic set to sea even more ill-equipped for the voyage than is commonly known. Of course, we all know what happened to the Titanic, of its owners' exaggerated sense of the ship's invulnerability and of the ship's appalling lack of lifeboats. But this tiny, menial, forgotten key might have been the most crucial element to ensuring the ship's safety. And all it took was a simple switch of officers-a rushed replacement right before departure-to set into motion a chain of events that would result in the most infamous maritime disaster on record. It was not just the key or the overconfidence or the lack of lifeboats that made the Titanic such a tragedy-it was the inability of White Star to gauge its risks holistically and, as a result, fail to prevent the preventable at any number of opportunities.

Blair's key made headlines recently when it was auctioned off for a small fortune. And while the key holds special significance to collectors and maritime historians, enterprise risk managers might view the key as something else: an emblem of how the tiniest of oversights in a siloed risk culture can create the gravest of disasters. For it wasn't just the lack of a key that sunk the Titanic. It was an inability to communicate, a mismatched sense of risk analysis between the ship owners, builders and operators, a disconnect between what would make the ship safe and what would make it fashionable. …

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