Navigation Links
New approach needed to prevent major 'systemic failures'
Date:1/31/2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University researcher is proposing development of a new cross-disciplinary approach for analyzing and preventing systemic failures in complex systems that play a role in calamities ranging from huge power blackouts to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the subprime mortgage crisis.

"The striking similarities in such catastrophes necessitates a broader perspective to better understand such failures," said Venkat Venkatasubramanian, a professor of chemical engineering. "In the history of systemic failures, a few disasters have served as wake-up calls. The Flixborough chemical plant accident in the United Kingdom in 1974, where a Nypro UK plant explosion killed 26 people, was one such call."

Other such major catastrophes, he said, include a 1984 Union Carbide accident in Bhopal, India, which killed more than 2,000 and injured more than 100,000, and the 1988 failure of an oil platform operated by Occidental Petroleum in the North Sea, which resulted in 167 deaths and about $2 billion in losses.

"Such systemic failures are not limited to the chemical and petrochemical industries," Venkatasubramanian said. "The Northeast electrical power blackout in 2003 and a recent massive recall of drug products are both systemic failures. Financial disasters such as Enron, WorldCom, the subprime mortgage derivatives crisis and the Madoff Ponzi scam also belong to the same class."

The need for a new cross-disciplinary framework to address such systemic failures was introduced in an article appearing in the January 2011 issue of the AIChE Journal.

"We must study all disasters from a common systems engineering perspective so that one can thoroughly understand the commonalities as well as the differences in order to better design and control such systems in the future," Venkatasubramanian said. "There is an important role for universities here, as well, in creating and disseminating knowledge about abnormal-events management in complex engineered systems and their public and corporate policy implications."

Such studies need to be carried out, he said, with public policy experts so that the scientific and engineering lessons get translated into effective policies and regulations.

"Typically, systemic failures occur due to fragility in complex systems," Venkatasubramanian said. "Modern technological advances are creating a rapidly increasing number of complex engineered systems, processes and products, which pose considerable challenges in ensuring their proper design, analysis, control, safety and management for successful operation over their life cycles."

The sheer scale and complexity of interactions between elements, including people, in such systems-of-systems make them fragile.

"In particular, the nonlinear interactions among a large number of interdependent components and the environment can lead to what we call 'emergent' behavior," Venkatasubramanian said. "In other words, the behavior of the whole is different than the sum of its parts and can be difficult to anticipate and control. This is further compounded by human errors, equipment failures and dysfunctional interactions among components and subsystems that make systemic risks even more likely if one is not vigilant all the time."

Postmortem investigations have shown that major disasters rarely occur due to a single failure of equipment or personnel. Instead, layers of failures of equipment, systems, processes, regulations and people usually are at fault, he said.

Often, Venkatasubramanian said, the responsibility for an accident rests with the top levels of company management and a poor corporate culture regarding safety.

"Professor Venkatasubramanian's article in AIChE discusses the surprising commonalities of systemic failures that lead to disasters, such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and outlines a role that academic institutions can play to prevent such destructive events from happening in the future," said John W. Bickham, director of Purdue's Center for the Environment and a professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. "The highly interdisciplinary field of systems engineering will play a key role in the development of policies and procedures that can protect the environment and human health and safety in the future."


'/>"/>

Contact: Emil Venere
venere@purdue.edu
765-494-4709
Purdue University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Evolution: A Developmental Approach
2. Wheat resistance genes failing, new approach needed to stop flies
3. Study of nutrition, Alzheimers links hampered by research approach
4. SomaLogic researchers describe revolutionary new approach to protein analysis and application to early diagnosis of lung cancer
5. Symposium in Vietnam to discuss integrated approach to defeating diarrheal disease
6. Scientists describe new approach for identifying genetic markers for common diseases
7. New approaches to skin cancer prevention
8. New approach to underweight COPD patients
9. Climate change forcing a move it or lose it approach to species conservation?
10. RD114 envelope proteins provide an effective and versatile approach to pseudotype lentiviral vectors
11. Simple approach could clean up oil remaining from Exxon Valdez spill
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:1/20/2016)... A market that just keeps on growing. ... explosion in genomics knowledge. Learn all about it in ... of dynamic trends are pushing market growth and company ... pharmacogenomics - pathogen evolution - next generation sequencing - ... understanding of the role of genetic material in Disease ...
(Date:1/20/2016)... SAN JOSE, Calif. , Jan. 20, 2016 ... leading developer of human interface solutions, today announced ... touch controller solution for wearables and small screen ... appliances such as printers. Supporting round and rectangular ... the S1423 offers excellent performance with moisture on ...
(Date:1/15/2016)... , Jan. 15, 2016 Recent publicized breaches ... to find new ways to ensure data security and ... iOS and Android that ties a ... transforming it into a hardware authorization token. Customer service ... their fingerprint on their KodeKey enabled device to verify ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:2/11/2016)... WASHINGTON , Feb. 11, 2016   BioInformant ... strategic report, "Stem Cell Research Products, Opportunities, Tools, and ... 2020. ... specialize in the stem cell industry, BioInformant has more ... of the stem cell market, by stem cell type. ...
(Date:2/11/2016)... ... 2016 , ... Global Stem Cells Group, has ... The new facility will provide advanced protocols and state-of-the-art techniques in cellular medicine, ... , The new GSCG clinic is headed by four prominent Ecuadorian physicians, including ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... Md. , Feb. 10, 2016  The Maryland ... Busch , has announced that University of Maryland School ... PhD, MBA and University of Maryland Medical System President ... of the "Speaker,s Medallion," the highest honor given to ... of Delegates. Dean Reece and Mr. ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... and New York, New York (PRWEB) , ... ... ... Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: REGN) today announced that it has joined ... new vaccines and immunotherapies for infectious diseases and cancer. , The ...
Breaking Biology Technology: