Sunday, January 15, 2012

Let the speculation begin (Passenger Control edition)

The Costa Concordia disaster will be the subject of massive amounts of speculation.

And so it should be.

Given the modern era and the regulations under which ships sail, it takes an extraordinary circumstance and extraordinary conditions to put a ship, in transit, into the peril which befell the Costa Concordia.

One of the first issues which arises is the ship's attention to passenger safety management. All passenger conveying companies are required to train their crews in passenger control during an emergency; too many treat it as a mere annoyance. A cost of training which they would otherwise not engage unless forced to do so.

Costa Concordia was meeting the minimum requirement. Her passengers were berthed, settled and at dinner, (in all their dining finery), before they had ever been involved in a passenger muster and boat drill. Their first drill was scheduled for 1700 on the day after they had departed.

That's simply the worst way to present passengers with the method for evacuation and the least likely way to invest the crew in passenger control. The passengers had no idea how to muster and the crew had not gathered in the passenger complement.

Swept up ships never leave that kind of thing to chance. The best way to ensure passengers get a feel for how to participate in their own survival is to conduct a passenger muster and boat drill before the ship departs. That includes lowering boats to the embarkation level so they can see what will happen. If passengers are sitting at dinner joking about the next day's drill and wondering about their fate if something should happen before then, the ship simply hasn't done it properly. Costa Concordia ran square into Murphy's Law.

A good master never stops thinking about Murphy's Law.

When you hit a rock the cruise is over. So is your career, so quit worrying about it.

Under IMO guidance the best life boat is your ship. From all appearances the master of Costa Concordia made every effort to get the ship to a safe port. No fault there. He almost made it. I do question, however, the sense of urgency imparted to the passengers.

Notwithstanding the clear lack of a passenger drill prior to departure, the passengers which have spoken out state that there was confusion. No doubt. There always will be. Some made reference to the Titanic. They always do. So, it makes a great deal of sense to eliminate the fear that thought brings. Complete honesty and a realistic assessment of the situation is imperative. These are not company customers; they are the ship's passengers. They are in the same situation as the crew - except that they have no training. Everyone fears that they will panic. They won't if they have confidence in the people who will ensure their survival. They can't do that unless they know who those people are.

No boat drill. No confidence. Immediate thought? Titanic. I'm going to die. No alarm at the outset of an emergency and a full public announcement of what is known? Panic.

Passenger control? Difficult to achieve. Some will jump in the water. Proof? Costa Concordia.

Yes, I know. They're getting settled and unpacking their belongings and reading the menu and having their first romantic boff. A drill so interferes with their "experience" so early into the voyage.

And in this case, that's exactly what did not happen.

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