The first catastrophe I study in Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure is the Titanic.
Phillip Franklin, White Star Line vice-president, 1912
Titanic is a classic example of systematic cascade events, many unrelated to each other, any of which if corrected, would have averted the final event.
The Facts: The Titanic sank in the early morning of 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The official death toll is 1,517 making it #5 on the all time fatality list for shipwrecks. What makes this sinking notable is that the Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time of its maiden voyage and was declared ‘unsinkable’ by its builders.
Hubris is the father of tragedy and catastrophe.
Roughly 1,000 BC: Snow falls on Greenland, which will become the iceberg the strikes.
31 July 1908: Plans for Number 400 (Olympic) are presented to the White Star Line and approved. Number 401 (Titanic) is also approved.
31 March 1909: Construction begins on Titanic.
1909: The fatal iceberg calves off a glacier on the west coast of Greenland.
31 May 1911: Number 401 slides on 22 tons of soap and tallow into the water. It is not christened or formally named, keeping with White Star tradition.
2 April 1912: First sea trials of Titanic.
10 April 1912: Titanic sets out on her first, and last, voyage.
14 April 1912; 11:40 pm: Titanic strikes an iceberg.
15 April 1912; 2:20 am: Titanic sinks.
I cover the six cascade events leading to the final event, the sinking. Cascade #3 is:
CASCADE THREE: Lack of a sufficient number of lifeboats for the crew and passengers.
Titanic carried enough lifeboats to accommodate 1,178 people; for a ship with a capacity three times that. It must be understood that at the time, the theory was that lifeboats weren’t exactly that. They were transfer boats, as it was believed that if needed, there would be time to radio for help, and then transfer all passengers and crew to the responding vessels. In fact, the lifeboat capacity for Titanic exceeded that which was legally required at the time: British vessels over 10,000 tons were required to carry at least 16 lifeboats with capacity for 50% of passengers and crew. The Titanic actually exceeded this requirement by having a capacity for 52% of the people on board.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a focus on the 48% that weren’t provided for.
Plus, the Titanic displaced 52,000 tons, more than five times that maximum. By constructing the largest vessel at the time, the builder was outstripping maritime law. As we push the limits of technology and construction, constantly going for bigger and faster, there is a need to be self-regulating in terms of safety.
The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats. 14 were wooden with a capacity of 65 each. 4 were collapsible boats (wooden bottom, canvas sides) with a capacity of 47 each. There were also two emergency cutters with a capacity of 40 each.
Interestingly, the Titanic had 16 sets of davits, each of which was capable of handling 4 lifeboats. Doing the math, this gives the ship the capacity to carry 62 wooden boats (62 boats x 65 capacity equals 4,030 people). The original design for the Titanic called for 48 lifeboats, which would have held 3,120 people. But that number was reduced to 16 for various reasons (including esthetics as some of those additional lifeboats would have blocked the view from the deck).
Lesson: When building technology that outstrips current safety requirements, one should not take the easy way and adhere to outdated laws. The reality of the new technology requires a new reality in safety requirements.
After the Titanic sinking, naturally, the lifeboat requirement was changed so that a ship was required to carry enough lifeboats for its capacity, a common sense requirement that should have been organically implemented by designers and builders as ships grew larger.
Sadly, while the Titanic’s lifeboats had the capacity for 1,178 people, there were only 706 survivors.
To rely on simply obeying the law when dealing with safety issues, one leaves things open to a final event that will require the law to be changed after the fact.
It should not require death to update safety requirements.
For a good portion of my life, I was a warrior. I block that out a lot these days, although the pain from various parts of my body remind me otherwise at times. From when I was 17 years old I was trained as a warrior and spent a large portion of my years living that life, delving deeper and deeper into it, volunteering for more and more. In a way the pure warrior is a defense against the pain of life although it brings other pains; physical, emotional and spiritual.
But I see now there are much more important and difficult battles in life.
Sometimes we feel like we’re all alone. And sometimes we think everyone else is doing just fine. But everyone is carrying around a burden we can’t see and fighting a battle we often can’t imagine, never mind understand. They might be sick. They might be depressed. They might be in pain, physical or emotional, or both. They might have experienced trauma or tragedy in their life recently. Or old pains resurface. They might be suffering because someone they love is suffering or suffered or has died. There are some pains people outside of the ones who suffer it can’t even begin to comprehend.
But we can’t see it. Because we all put on our best to go out there in the world to face it and do what we have to do. To fulfill our responsibilities.
Lately, I’ve focused more and more on the fact that I don’t know shit about other people. And because of that, I have to be kinder. To let go of my preconceived notions, my selfishness, and my impatience.
To be a kinder person, because everyone I meet is fighting a hard battle I cannot see.