Due to social pressures, the ship left port without enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone on board. At that time the ship sank, the ship’s crew believed that if the lifeboats were fully loaded they would overturn. As a result, they did not use the lifeboats to their full capacity while evacuating the ship. The crew of the Titanic persuaded passengers to allow women and children to board the lifeboats first. Contrary to what the crew believed, the lifeboats of the Titanic were well-designed and more lives could have been saved. In fact, it was possible to carry a lifeboat of 1,178 people. It was estimated that the lifeboats were underutilized by approximately 300 spaces (Ji, 2013). In the end, only 651 people went on lifeboats and some additional people were rescued after jumping into the sea (Staff, 2009) (Tikkanen, 2018).
This tragedy is credited with popularizing the “women and children first” protocol. “Women and children first” is a practice that dictates that the lives of women and children are saved first in a life-threatening situation. Prior to the sinking of the Titanic, this “women and children first” protocol had never been part of the international maritime law (Ji, 2013). (Source: Wikipedia.org)
Additionally, there is a great deal that can be learned from the tragedy of the Titanic about human biases and failures as well as lessons learned. This WIKI will explore how these contributed to the Titanic sinking and the casualties that resulted. Please note that Appendix A contains data on the demographics of the passengers including gender, survival, and class.
Five Main Causes of the Tragedy
There Weren’t Enough Lifeboats
There are a lot of direct and indirect reasons that caused the Titanic to sink. However, shortage and misuse of lifeboats was a vital reason why so many lives were lost. There were 2,223 people on the ship, but only 20 lifeboats. This was a recipe for disaster. According to Maurice Clarke’s handwritten notes, it showed he recommended the Titanic to carry 50% more lifeboats to accommodate everyone on the ship. Even after giving his suggestion, Maurice Clarke felt pressured to approve that the Titanic was ready to leave the harbor without enough lifeboats. He was afraid to lose his job because management personnel disputed his idea (Pruitt, 2018). After the Titanic hit the iceberg, the management didn’t have a plan to effectively rescue those on board. Although there were only 20 lifeboats, more than 300 spaces were underutilized on the lifeboats (Ji, 2013). They were underutilized because they crew thought the lifeboats would overturn if they were fully loaded and because of the “women and children first” protocol. This left wasted space that could have saved more lives.
The Titanic’s Builders Cut Costs
People cannot ignore an intrinsic problem of the low quality construction of the Titanic. In 1985, an American-French expedition finally located the historic shipwreck. After they investigated the whole ship, they found the Titanic had not sunk intact after hitting the iceberg but had broken apart on the ocean’s surface (Pruitt, 2018). There is not a great deal of insight as to how the Titanic was built and how construction company’s cut cost from this project. However, researchers concluded that the Titanic broke apart because of below-standard build material and inappropriate construction.
The Wireless Radio Operator Dismissed Iceberg Warnings
After this disaster happened, people started searching information about why the Titanic sank. An important piece of information that should be noted is that the Titanic’s radio operator, Jack Phillips, didn’t pass iceberg warnings on to the captain. Less than an hour before the Titanic hit the iceberg, there was another ship nearby that stopped and avoided the iceberg. Just because the iceberg warning didn’t begin with the prefix “MSG” (Master’s Service Gram), Jack Phillips thought this warning was a non-urgent warning (Pruitt, 2018).
The Accident Took Place at Night
Prior to the collision, the Titanic received six iceberg warnings but nobody notified those warnings. The Atlantic voyage that the Titanic was undertaking was dangerous, however, the fact that they encountered the iceberg at night while most of the crew was sleeping made matters worse. When the Titanic hit the iceberg, people didn’t know what happened and didn’t have any plan to save themselves (Mixon, 2015).
The Temperature of the Water Was Freezing Cold
The low temperature of the water was a great challenge for the people who were on the lifeboats and for those in the sea. If the water was not as cold, some people could have found a piece of material from the ship and floated in the sea and waited for other people to come and save them (Mixon, 2015). People suffered from hypothermia and shock that clouded judgment and decreased the survival rate.
Personal/Human Bias Influence and Risk Management
Risk management is a scientific way to handling risks through forecasting possible losses and planning and implementing procedures that reduce the frequency of loss or the financial impact of the losses (Stulz, 2008). It is human nature that bias in risk management has always and will always exist (Siefert, 2007). People are generally overconfident in their ability to solve complex issues, despite evidence to the contrary. They have strongly held prejudices about how to solve the problem at hand. As a result, people do not always look at the full picture when managing risk. They make assumptions like the Titanic crew did with the capability of the lifeboats that are not always true. Overconfidence can create the belief that any risk can be overcome, which is not always true. In contrast, it can also cause people to rationalize that if there isn’t an obvious or immediate solution then there is not one available. For project and program risk management this can greatly affect the cost and schedule.
In addition to overconfidence bias, there are many other biases that can impact any person or circumstance. Some of the most common cognitive biases are as follows (Blases, 2017):
- Anchoring – the tendency to rely on the experience from past or rely on given information when making decisions.
- Availability heuristic– the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events, which can be affected by recent experience, memories or emotions.
- Hindsight bias – sometimes also called ‘I-knew-it-all-along’ effect, the tendency to see past events as they can be predictable at the time those events happened.
Overconfidence bias played a very important role in the sinking of the Titanic, especially with the lifeboats. Examining further, the captain ordered that women and children should be allowed to board the lifeboat. The No. 7 Dinghy was the first lifeboat to be used and although it had a maximum capacity of 65 passengers it carried only a dozen passengers. The sixth lifeboat contained only 28 people, including Moody Brown and Major Peuchen (Tikkanen, 2018). Overconfidence caused the crew to reexamine the captain’s message and realize that although women and children were first, men could still board the lifeboats. Additionally, overconfidence played a role in Jack Phillips ignoring the iceberg warning. He assumed that it was unimportant because they did not use the “MSG” prefix. Assumptions are a major downfall from overconfidence bias. (Source: blog.oup.org)
As previously mentioned, human biases were one reason for the sinking of the Titanic. Additionally, there were other types of human error that led to the catastrophic event. Dr. J. Rasmussen via iwolm.com uses the skill-rule-knowledge (SRK) model to classify human behavior. This model divides human behavior into three categories: skill-based behavior, rule-based behavior, and knowledge-based behavior. From these behaviors there are four main types of human error that include lapse error, slip error, mistakes, and violations. Lapse errors include oversights and slip errors include forgetfulness. Both of these errors were least present on the Titanic. The ship was set sail with deliberate knowledge that there were not enough lifeboats and there were iceberg warnings sent to the ship that were intentionally ignored. Therefore, violations comprised the greatest amount of human failure on the Titanic. These errors occur when short cuts are taken or rules are violated. Mistakes also comprised some of the human error on the ship, as the crash into the iceberg was an accident. Mistakes made in communication about the “women and children first rule” can also be attributed to human error. Let’s revisit the five causes of the crash addressed earlier and determine what type of human error was made.
- There weren’t enough lifeboats: This is a violation. The captain and crew let the ship depart from the dock with full knowledge of this.
- The Titanic’s builders cut costs: This is a violation. This is an example of where a violation occurs by trying to take short cuts
- The wireless radio operator dismissed iceberg warnings: This is a violation. The captain and crew let the ship depart from the dock with full knowledge of this.
- The accident took place at night: There is not much human error present in this reason for the crash. This is greatest attributed to the challenges of nature and the sailing environment.
- The temperature of the water was freezing cold: There is not much human error present in this reason for the crash either. This is greatest attributed to the challenges of nature and the sailing environment.
Looking further into risk management, these are important lessons learned from the sinking of the Titanic. There are five steps in risk management process:
- Step 1 Identify the risk: you should recognize and anticipate the risks that you might encounter in your current or future situation.
- Step 2 Evaluate the risk: consider the outcome and effect of each risk.
- Step 3 Technique selection: there are four techniques to respond to different risks that are based on the frequency and severity of the risk. These techniques include transfer, avoid, retain and loss control.
- Steps 4 & 5 Implement and Monitor the risk management: put risks in the framework and then monitor, track and review them.
The risk management process greatly helps to resolve a problem when risk occurs because the risk has already been recognized and monitored. The Titanic’s “women and children first” protocol gives women a survival advantage over men in maritime disasters. In a study conducted by Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixson, they analyzed a database of 18 maritime disasters bounding three centuries that covered the fate of over 15,000 individuals of more than 30 nationalities. Their results show that in maritime disasters without the “women and children” protocol that women have a survival disadvantage compared to men. They also found that the captain has the greatest influence and power to enforce normative behavior in the disasters. In this case, Captain Smith knew that lifeboats were limited and enforced the “women and children” protocol to try to minimize casualties. He evaluated the risk that if the lifeboats were not served for by women and children first, their chance of survival would be very low. He tried to salvage disadvantaged groups to achieve loss control. On the other hand, Captain Smith and all crew members did not identify and evaluate comprehensive risks before launching an “engineering marvel.” For instance, the ship did not have the technology to spot icebergs in the water. Lastly, safety risks were ignored rather than managed when the Titanic left dock without enough lifeboats (Kozak-Holland, 2005). These examples demonstrate the importance of risk management and how risk could have been better managed to avoid the tragedy or minimize casualties. The captain and crew did not have plans in place to handle risk and catastrophic situations. They were reactive instead of proactive, which failed the ship, crewmembers, and all passengers aboard. Due to unpreparedness and the crew’s poor handling of risk, the Titanic disaster demonstrates poor risk management. Shipping industries use this as a lesson learned when determining reasonable regulations and standards aimed at avoiding similar losses from occurring again (Alario and Freudenburg, 2010).
Lastly, the Titanic demonstrates lessons learned that human biases and human errors are very much present in our daily lives. The more aware we are of biases and behavior patterns, the better we can control them. For example, overconfidence bias can be reduced if the person is aware of it. When a person starts to assume something, they should take a step back and consider where the assumption is coming from. In addition to self-checks, peer-checks can also be conducted to reduce biases. If someone else heard the radio call that Jack Phillips ignored, they might not have dismissed it. Finally, in regards to human error, some are inevitable but violations are choices. Short cuts and ignoring policies and procedures that are in place can lead to destruction.