Datacenter downtime is bad but not nuclear silo explosion bad

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Source: This American Life.

Writing about datacenters and tech I am always looking for parallels with other industries to try and contextualise some of the issues that emerge.

Managing datacenters is challenging but what about other types of critical infrastructure like airports, railways and power stations?

I think I have found another great example.

I just listened to a recent webcast from the always excellent This American Life. Titled, ‘Human Error in Volatile Situations’ it does pretty much what it says on the tin.

The first story in the episode is the most gripping and probably the most infamous. For anyone who’s had experience of managing complex facilities equipment, it’s a must listen.

“In 1980, deep in a nuclear missile silo in Arkansas, a simple human error nearly caused the destruction of a giant portion of the Midwest.”

A devastating explosion, and a near nuclear incident, was caused by human error – use of the wrong tool – but exacerbated by extremely poor decision making from above and emergency operating procedures that seemed comprehensive but didn’t extend to the unthinkable.

Check out the podcast at This American Life.

I’m planning to check out the book on which some of the podcast is based next – Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety – but I’m also conscious that where nuclear incident safety is concerned, ignorance is also bliss. 

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