Contingency Plans – an example of what can go wrong

The IEEE recently released an account of the first 24 hours of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophy. The article outlines the individual events leading to the nuclear meltdown as well as the measures taken up by TEPCO personnel, including trying to connect car batteries to enable electric controls to display viable measurements of water levels.

As tragic as this happening has been and will be in the future, the main issue pointed out by the IEEE is that various lessons have to be learnt from this catastrophy for the future. Among the lessons are the following:

LESSON 1 – Emergency generators should be installed at high elevations or in watertight chambers.

LESSON 2 – If a cooling system is intended to operate without power, make sure all of its parts can be manipulated without power.

For project managers, especially for those working on safety-critical or safety-related projects, e.g. in the aviation or railways industry or at electrically-charged equipment, the Fukushima story can give two other valuable lessons:

1. Question the safety design present, especially on logical flaws and factors excluded in the RAMS calculations and hazard analysis. As can be seen from Lesson 1, all emergency generators have been installed certainly in a redundant way and cross-logical to ensure that even when several units fail, the overall generator might function (with the generator being a fallback level already in itself), however the factor of location with its characteristic of being on the same level (lower elevations) seems to have not been a factor in the RAMS calculation. The same as e.g. all generators were within the same environment (e.g. air-circulated room, not vacuumed room, etc.).

2. Question the emergency plans and ensure testing of the same. Especially in developing countries or third world countries, contingency plans are often drawn up based on industrial countries experience, but either never fully tested or fully adapted to the standards present. Importantly enough, question the project management that will be inforced in case of emergency, i.e. what will the command chain be and is it efficient enough. Not all emergencies can be forseen and improvisation will be part of the equation, but ensure that the competency for this improvisation is given.

3. Communication is of the essence. As the IEEE states did the ineffective communication strategy of TEPCO rather disturb the situation than support it and leave a feeling of uncertainty with the general population. A field often neglected in technical project management is the stakeholder management for which major corporations have public relation specialists, nevertheless stakeholders are more often than not deciding on the success of a project, irrespective of the contractual targets. If you miss the deadline by one day due to a chain delay of civil works and the newspaper blames the delayed opening of the railway track on electrification not in place, the image of project is damaged. Better establish a stakeholder management once and maintain it for the better of the project.

Let’s hope that there will be no further horror stories from Fukushima and if you need help in your project to review your safety plans, emergency scenarios or your stakeholder management, please contact me at MLVONSCHAPER AT YAHOO DOT DE.

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