More on Engineering Disasters and Bird Flu

Here's another anecdote from the Engineering Disasters story I wrote about recently. In 1956 the cruise ship Andrea Doria was struck and sunk by the ocean liner Stockholm. At that time radar was still a fairly new innovation on sea vessels. Ship bridges were dimly lit, and the controls on radar systems were not illuminated. It is possible that the Stockholm radar operators misinterpreted the readings on their equipment, believing the Andrea Doria was 12 miles away when it was really 2 miles away. The ships literally turned towards one another on a collision course, based on faulty interpretation of radar contact in the dense fog. Catastrophe ensued.

This disaster shows how humans can never be removed from the equation, and they are often at center stage when failures occur. The commentator on the show said a 10 cent ligh bulb illuminating the radar controls station could have shown the radar range was positioned in a setting different from that assumed by the operator. Following the Andrea Doria collision, illumintation was added to ship radar controls. This story reminded me that the latest security technology is worthless -- or even worse, damaging -- in the hands of people who are not trained or able to use it properly.

On a different subject, I heard an interview on NPR with Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt about bird flu. He likened the situation to "surveillance" of a dry forest during fire season. He said that the best defense was vigilance and rapid response. His analogy assumed being nearby when a small fire erupts. First responders who are quickly on the scene can stamp out a fire before it becomes uncontrollable. If the response team is unaware of the fire, it can spread and then be beyond containment. He concluded the interview saying "ultimately, another pandemic will come. Right now we are not prepared."

I thought his comments applied well to digital security incidents. NSM is surveillance, and incident response helps stamp out fires (or bird flu outbreaks) quickly before they exceed an organization's capacity to deal with them. Is your organization ready? If you want to know, TaoSecurity provides services like incident response training and CSIRT assessments and evaluations.


Anonymous said…
Hey, Rich

You were wondering about whether Steve Jobs would have gone ahead with Challenger?

Well...Look no further than:

Go Noles!

-Gator Hater

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