Lessons From Nature

Kathy | October 1, 2005

Our recent natural disasters seem to have knocked us for a loop. At some point, critical oil and gas production and supply lines were shut down, affecting all consumers. Shipping and other commercial activities along the Gulf Coast were greatly reduced. It will be some time before a sense of normalcy returns.

Exacerbating the situation were several significant failures of our systems and processes. The failure of the levees around New Orleans allowed flooding that led to tremendous loss of life and property. Apparent lack of planning and implementation by just about everyone led to great sufferingÐand further loss of life and property. Grave miscalculations by risk management leaders led to confusion and chaos, fueling the various worst-case scenarios that we viewed on our television screens.

So what does all this have to do with Professional Development?
I think it is an easy leap to use these recent natural disaster situations as an analogy to our own industrial enterprises and what can occur if we are not adequately prepared. We have a chance to step back and consider the “what if’s” and determine how prepared we are for things facing us, whether they be natural disasters, old equipment, new processes or whatever. The problems that leaped from our national headlines concerning the aftermaths of Katrina and Rita should be considered a clarion call for us to consider the problems we all face in our industrial working lives. I believe we should be asking our organizations and ourselves some very probing questions.

Are our facilities and equipment systems designed and built for reliable operations? Were they designed to operate reliably in the type of situations they are being exposed to? Are they being maintained to a level that allows them to operate reliably? Have we conducted a risk analysis on our critical processes and equipment? Do we have plans in place to eliminate or mitigate failures? Are our people resources trained and ready to deal with situations? Do we have resources who understand reliability and maintenance concepts and can apply them to our particular situation?

In my last Professional Development Quarterly article, I wrote about how professional development drives our economic engines. Continuing in that framework, I think it is clear that our country’s economic engine took a significant hit as a result of the recent hurricanes.

Obviously, we can’t prevent natural occurrences like the devastating storms of a few weeks ago, but we can mitigate resulting damage somewhat through the use of a large number of tools available to us, including reliability design, risk management planning, etc. With these tools, we can prevent the more common “disasters” caused by poor planning, preparation or implementation.

We also should take this thought down to our own situations within the enterprises where we work. Have we utilized reliability design concepts? Have we developed and insisted on reliability specs for our equipment and processes? Have we developed a risk management scenario (at least for our critical processes)? Have we developed a maintenance system that utilizes modern concepts? Do we plan and schedule appropriately?

Perhaps the biggest question is do we have the human resources with the appropriate knowledge and skills to lead, develop, implement and sustain the type of systems and equipment to help ensure the smooth, reliable operation of our enterprise? If we have, then it is likely that our enterprise has a strong, well-defined professional development process for our people. If not, it is likely that our enterprise needs a much-improved professional development process.

There are numerous ways for each of us to continually work on our professional development, both individually and corporately. Conferences, short courses, university degree programs, specialized training programs and other resources abound. This magazine routinely identifies and catalogs many of these educational opportunities. Several of them even advertise in this publication.

I hope we all will take heed of what we have learned from the recent hurricane situations. Going forward, let’s make sure that each one of us is involved in some type of professional development program—honing our skills or learning new techniques to protect our enterprises, our communities, our families and ourselves—and aiding our economic engine.

Tom Byerley is Director of the Maintenance and Reliability Center at The University of Tennessee, an industry-sponsored center that promotes utilization of advanced maintenance and reliability technologies and management principles in industry. He also is currently Treasurer of The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP).




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