Title: Tales of the unexpected

Authors: David Elms; Colin B. Brown

Addresses: Civil Engineering Department, University of Canterbury, 21 Victoria Park Road, Christchurch 8022, New Zealand. ' Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, 201 More Hall, Box 352700, Seattle, WA 98195-2700, USA; School of Civil and Construction Engineering, Oregon State University, P.O. Box 1330, Corvallis, OR 97339-1330, USA

Abstract: There are two strategies for safety. The first is to minimise the likelihood of failure, and the second to achieve resilience and minimise the consequences of failure should it occur. Failure is unexpected by those involved: it comes as a surprise. Surprise relates the probability of an event to the weight we give it or the degree of interest we have in it, which should be interest in whatever it is that causes failure. Many, possibly most, failures stem from the models used by engineers. To better understand models and their potential problems, a taxonomy of models is proposed, and examples of failure are given for different model types. A list of principles is given for good modelling practice which, if followed, would reduce the likelihood of failure and of being surprised. The approach has relevance to engineering education as well as practice.

Keywords: safety strategies; surprise; philosophy; engineers; failure minimisation; resilience; unexpected events; event probability; engineering models; model taxonomies; engineering education; structures; risk assessment; risk management; catastrophic risks; catastrophes.

DOI: 10.1504/IJRAM.2011.043696

International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, 2011 Vol.15 No.5/6, pp.387 - 399

Received: 05 Mar 2011
Accepted: 23 May 2011

Published online: 28 Feb 2015 *

Full-text access for editors Access for subscribers Purchase this article Comment on this article