Lessons from the Costa Concordia

Update: the verdict is in – Captain Schettino is sentenced to sixteen years in prison for a disaster that cut 32 lives short. Here’s an interview with survivors reacting to the sentence from NBC.

This is a look back at the Costa Concordia during a two-week period when commercial transportation gave the media a lot to report on. AirAsia lost an Airbus A320 with 162 people onboard in the Java Sea. The Norman Atlantic, a ferry, suffered a fire on the auto deck off the coast of Greece enroute to Italy, while two other ships, the Ezadeen and the Blue Sky M, carrying over 1,000 refugees, were also abandoned to the Italian Navy. Days later the Hoegh Osaka, a car-carrier, ran aground off the Isle of Wight; the Cemfjord sank off the coast of Scotland – without a trace of the crew. A Norwegian carrier, the Bulk Jupiter, left one survivor from a crew of nineteen when it sank off the coast of Vietnam.

The Norman Atlantic had 478 passengers on the manifest, but it’s still unclear how many people were actually on board. No alarm sounded, and many passengers were alerted by other passengers, or the acrid smoke in their cabins. Once on deck they were greeted by pounding rain, water from cannons used to fight the fire, and forty-knot winds. Survivors were lifted to safety in rescue baskets from Italian Navy helicopters operated until the ship was emptied.

Norman Atlantic

Although more than ten people died, Norman Atlantic survivors were fortunate. The ship remained afloat throughout the rescue operation – not the case for passengers on the M.V. Sewol.

The MV Sewol sank off the South Korean coast on April 16, 2014. In that tragedy, hundreds of Korean school children were told to put their lifejackets on, but remain where they were inside the ship, to avoid increasing a list created by a sharp turn commanded by the crew. Incredibly the ship’s Captain reinforced the order to “stay put” even as he abandoned ship. Most of the students were found in the cafeteria when divers searched the ship in the days following the disaster. Now, Captain Lee, and eleven of his crew are facing murder charges in South Korea.

Traveler deaths in ferry and shipping disasters are far higher than those from commercial aircraft accidents. There are too many examples where crew-member instructions doom people who, left on their own, would have saved themselves. This is true for the next story too.

Armada

In January 2012, when the Costa Concordia ran aground off the Italian coast, Blake Miller was on-board. The cruise picked up passengers at several ports; Blake and his partner, Steve, boarded in Rome a few hours before the accident. Rather than provide a security briefing when new passengers were added, the ​briefing was scheduled for 3PM the next day. ​

Costa Concordia Upright

As they passed close to an Island off the Italian coast passengers felt an impact and sought direction from the crew. Earlier that day Steve reviewed safety materials in their cabin ​and noticed lifeboats were mounted on Deck 4, but now the crew instructed passengers to muster on Deck 10 and to don life-jackets. Blake and Steve were already ​on deck 7, but ​had ​a nagging feeling that a ship that size shouldn’t have a recognizable list so quickly. Something was seriously wrong, and they both thought the crew should be sending people to the lifeboats. After a long delay they decided it was time to go, and without grabbing cellphones or jackets, left their cabin and moved against the crowd on the quiet ship to find the lifeboats.

On the fourth deck it was obvious lifeboats would be deployed – and many without enough passengers to fill them. Blake and Steve boarded the closest one. Within minutes they were told to get out since the lifeboat couldn’t disengage from the heavily listing ship. They moved to another boat​ and bumped along the side before falling the final 30 feet into the ocean.

In the water they saw people in a small raft who had jumped from the ship, and they watched as more lifeboats were lowered. ​Unfortunately, by the time abandon ship was called an hour after the disaster, lifeboats on the Port side, the high-side, ​could not ​swing free of the ship and lowering them safely ​was impossible.

I asked Blake if their decision to ignore crew-member instructions saved their lives, he replied, “No, not in this case, but most of the passengers on Deck ​10 had to​ rappel down the side of the ship and jump into rafts in the ocean, or wait to ​be rescued by helicopter. Many were still waiting on board until after midnight.”

An accident in open-water might have had a different outcome. When the Costa Concordia rolled onto it’s side, the island prevented it from sinking. Blake’s experience demonstrates how powerful intuition can be to save us from harm. He and Steve overcame self-doubt and denial, but they also ignored ill-informed instructions from the ship’s crew.

Those were two powerful forces working against them – conscious denial slowed their progress towards the lifeboats, even as intuition told them they were in danger, but the crew slowed their self-rescue too. Authority figures gave them the wrong instructions. Blake’s skepticism, and a wind that caused the ship to shift to it’s other side convinced Blake that it was time to go. Steve was already there, but their actions demonstrate that when our conscious brains, and authorities take over, we can be slow to take life-saving action in our own defense.

 

 

Risk Management Travel Management

Recipe to Riot: How the LAPD Keeps the Peace

The US Supreme Court recently upheld the right to videotape Police in action by denying an Illinois request to review a Federal Court’s decision to prohibit Cook County from prosecuting people for “eavesdropping” on Police. See more here. This is an important decision – it means that citizens and watch groups may monitor law enforcement through photographic methods and continue to disseminate their findings via social network sites like twitter, youtube, facebook and instagram – all with first amendment protection.

Videotapes and photographs showing Police in action have an important history. Sometime in early 2007 I became acquainted with William Bratton, Chief of Police, and his senior staff including Chief Earl Paysinger. A few weeks after our first introduction Chief Paysinger asked me to review the Police Departments’ customer service procedures and make recommendations about how they might improve service to the citizen’s of Los Angeles. Earl thought my previous law enforcement experience, combined with my experience dealing some of American’s best customers, the movie studios, offered a good backdrop to draw from. Over the following months and after a series of interviews and ride-alongs, including one with Sergeant Al LaBrada with the Gang Crimes unit, I felt comfortable that I understood the LAPD’s general operations, but I wrestled with actionable recommendations that could make a meaningful difference.

Service levels or satisfaction scores as defined by typical corporate surveys or ratings didn’t feel like the right metric to capture what Earl had asked for, but within weeks something happened that clarified the problem for me. On May 1, 2007, a large group of people marched in MacArthur park to protest for citizenship for illegal immigrants. The march and skirmishes between police and protesters have come to be known as the May Day Melee. There was clear videographic evidence that depicted excessive force by the LAPD against peaceful protesters and reporters. The tapes were aired repeatedly by local media and led to widespread criticism of the LAPD’s actions from a broad spectrum of Angelenos.

The LAPD manages thousands of public contacts each day and responds to millions of 9-1-1 calls per year, but only periodic incidents that lead to rapid escalation and threats to life and property. The “customer service problem” was not about how to say “please” or “thank you” during daily transactions. It was far easier. It could be distilled to a command problem about how to respond when Officers are involved in a long tail event. Moreover, it wasn’t just a ‘problem’ where Officers were involved. There were even more ingredients that could be isolated to help the LAPD identify and predict future events.

A review of the May Day events at MacArthur Park, combined with a quick look at previous flare ups and riots including the acquittal of LAPD Officers charged with assaulting Rodney King during a traffic stop in 1991 (the beating was videotaped and led to widespread anger at the LAPD) provide clues about the circumstances that lead to these events.

The May Day Melee was embarrassing to the City of Los Angeles, but it should be viewed as a bad situation that was defused successfully. Within days of the initial event William Bratton suspended senior Officers, and acknowledged what most people could see clearly on the evening news – the LAPD was wrong, they had overreacted, and they were going to change. Chief Bratton’s treatment of his organization wasn’t without complaint. There were Officers who criticized his handling of the department in the aftermath, but videotapes allow anyone with youtube access to question Ground Commanders’ actions – and sometimes Officers make the wrong call.

My recommendations to the LAPD follows: keep doing what you’re doing, but be alert for situations that include the following ingredients:

  1. Predisposition to mistrust the Police.
  2. Incident occurs that a majority of residents see as an abuse of police power or overreaction.
  3. A video tape or photographic evidence exists. The video removes all reasonable doubt about the facts in the case.
  4. The public views the recording repeatedly with quotes from community leaders that condemn the acts and call for justice or retribution.
  5. A muted/hollow or tone deaf response from the police.

When all five conditions are present Police, Military Commanders, and Government leaders must break away from the script and change number 5. They must get in front of problems – and leaders don’t make them better by ignoring public opinion.

Looking back at the acquittal on April 29th, 1992, is useful. The response was immediate and it triggered six days of rioting in Los Angeles, led to more than 50 deaths, and caused over $1 Billion in property damage. It’s worth thinking about – a careful plan, executed well might have minimized it.

Risk Management