Miami Bridge Collapse Shows the Need to Further Study Organizational Failures
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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest
There are numerous social science theories that argue in favor of the notion that “all emergencies are man-made.” This argument is controversial due to the numerous factors that come together to create a disaster. But understanding the causes of a disaster helps society recognize significant improvements that could be implemented to prevent future emergencies.
Various organizations attribute different causes to disasters. Public safety personnel might feel that a lack of training or understanding of how to effectively manage an emergency was the cause of a disaster.
Social scientists might say a lack of preparation or a failure within an organizational hierarchy created the environment for an emergency. The recent bridge collapse in Miami, Florida, is a case study in organizational failure.
Why Did the Bridge Collapse in Miami?
According to a recent report by CBS News, the bridge went through a design change, was behind schedule and over budget. The TV report also blamed “time pressures put on the tower redesign by construction delays, due to a bottleneck at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”
Certainly, these problems were not the immediate cause of the bridge failure. However, in a manner similar to the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, the redesign pressures and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bottleneck were part of a much larger problem that contributed to the overall collapse.
The Challenger Disaster: An Organizational Failure that Led to Fatalities
Numerous social scientists have reviewed the Challenger Disaster and the events leading up to the tragedy. As noted by Joseph Lorenzo Hall in his article, “Columbia and Challenger: Organizational Failure at NASA,” numerous organizational failures contributed to the Challenger tragedy.
One organizational failure involved a discussion about the Challenger’s O-rings on the right-side rocket boosters. According to Hall, engineers working on the Challenger believed the O-rings would not be able to withstand the extreme temperatures of outer space.
Instead of investigating the engineers’ concerns and postponing the launch, NASA management went ahead with the scheduled lift-off. Hall notes that there was also political pressure on NASA to keep the project on schedule.
Lessons to Learn from Organizational Failures
The Miami bridge collapse and the Challenger disaster resulted from very different factors. However, faulty management decisions and organizational failures definitely played a role in the fatalities of both events.
Emergency managers are always looking for lessons learned in the after-action reports compiled after a major incident. In the case of the Miami bridge collapse, it is particularly important for emergency managers to join engineers, scientists, municipal authorities and senior management of the bridge construction companies involved to determine what organizational failures led to this fatal accident.
Through further study, organizational theorists could also make recommendations to project managers to mitigate injuries and fatalities before they happen. While this research will not prevent all disasters from happening, it could help to reduce the possibility of future catastrophic events and save lives.