Accidents are exactly that: Accidents. As we have seen from techincal disasters from Chernobyl to the Space Shuttle to Deepwater Horizon, when complex systems are impacted by a never before imagined sequence of individual failures, catastrophic consequences may result.
My father is an expert in risk analysis and assessment. I used to tell people ‘Dad does disasters’ and really, that’s somewhat true. Really, my father looks into accidents and tries to help people understand why they happened and prevent them from happening again. Actually, if I want to get technical, Dad’s a probabilistic safety assessment (PSA) consultant, manager, mathematician, and technical advisor for large organizations. But that doesn’t help you much.
I’ve always known he worked for NASA, helped with the NASA Challenger Disaster, went to Three Mile Island. The whole deal. But I never sat down and read his stuff. While working on his site, I decided to convert some PDFs to HTML (using Custom Post Types, you WordPressers) so people could have an easier access to his work. That meant I actually read what I was copying, formatting and tweaking.
Turns out I use stuff from my Dad’s work all the time in my life! When I’m the voice of reason at work, I’ve realized it’s because I did absorb his lessons. When I raise a warning flag, or point out that you can’t reasonably expect certain things, I see them reflected now in his work. I’m aware of risks because he taught me how to think, and risk analysis is all about thinking! The math is, on many levels, above my pay grade. I don’t have the discipline to sit and pound out the equations like he does. But I can and do have the ability to use my brain and think about the whole picture.
So if you’re looking for a risk assessment consultant, check out woody.com. He really is good. If you just want to read up on what the whole thing is, read Woody’s Perspective and Lisa Norris’ Death by Software Changes. They’re pretty good starting points, even if you’re not technical.