Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lost Luggage

Spend any time at an airport baggage claim and it won’t be long before you spot a solitary suitcase going round and round on an otherwise empty baggage carousel. Ever wondered what happens to that suitcase if the airline is unable to reunite it with its owner? Chances are it ultimately ends up at the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a one-of-a-kind retailer that purchases lost and unclaimed bags from the airlines, then re-sells the bags and their contents at a store in Scottsboro, Alabama, The Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Do You Give Good E-mail?

Have you ever considered the possibility that you're not good at e-mailing? If not, perhaps you should. You might not realize that you're in need of help.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Next: Disaster

In the wake of last week’s bridge collapse in downtown Minneapolis, state officials across the U.S. have been rushing to inspect their own bridges—especially those 700-plus spans that are similar in design to that of the I-35W crossing. One bridge in Missouri has already been closed indefinitely, and others are sure to follow.

This bridge collapse and subsequent response brings to mind the saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I don’t want to be too critical, because in the U.S. major engineering-related disasters are rare. Let’s give our engineers and safety monitors credit where credit is due.

But let’s face it, the U.S. is becoming increasingly reactive (as opposed to proactive) when it comes to preventing and mitigating disasters. Pre-Katrina our government was well aware of what might happen to New Orleans in the wake of a major hurricane. And we’ve all been hearing for several years how the infrastructure in the U.S. is crumbling, yet we aren’t doing nearly enough to replace and repair our aging buildings, roads and bridges. I’m certain that the engineering community saw a major bridge collapse coming—that we were “overdue,” so to speak. Yet, it always takes a high-profile disaster before we begin to seriously address such problems—and sometimes even that isn’t enough.

All of this might leave you wondering what the next major U.S. transportation disaster is going to be. As someone who studies failure on an everyday basis I can take a pretty good guess:

Right now, the big fear among aviation safety experts is that two commercial airliners are going to collide on the ground at a major U.S. airport, most likely while one plane is taxiing and the other is taking off or landing. The accident is expected to occur at a busy hub where planes frequently taxi across runways, and/or at an airport that handles a lot of international flights (where communications between pilots and controllers may be hindered somewhat by a language barrier).

“Close calls” are occurring all the time, and an accident such as this is likely to happen sooner rather than later. But badly-needed safety measures aren’t likely to be implemented until after we experience an accident akin to the one that occurred at Tenerife, Canary Islands on March 27, 1977, where PanAm and KLM 747’s collided on the ground, killing 583 people.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Officials warned in 1990: Bridge was "structurally deficient"

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune structural deficiencies in the I-35W bridge were so serious that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) last winter considered bolting steel plates to its supports to prevent cracking in the fatigued bridge metal.

"Fears about bridge safety fueled emotional debate within the agency, according to a construction industry source. But on the I-35W bridge, transportation officials opted against making the repairs. Officials were concerned that drilling thousands of tiny bolt holes would weaken the bridge. Instead, MnDOT launched an inspection that was interrupted this summer by unrelated work on the bridge's concrete driving surface.

The Associated Press (AP) also reported that in 1990 Minnesota officials were warned that the bridge was "structurally deficient," yet they relied on patchwork repairs. The federal government also gave the I-35W bridge a rating of "structurally deficient," citing significant corrosion in its bearings.

As recently as 2005 a federal inspection also rated the bridge structurally deficient, giving it a 50 on a scale of 100 for structural stability.

And during the 1990s, inspections found fatigue cracks and corrosion in the steel around the bridge's joints. Those problems were repaired. Starting in 1993, the state said, the bridge was inspected annually instead of every other year.

The collapsed bridge's last full inspection was completed June 15, 2006. The report shows previous inspectors' notations of fatigue cracks in the spans approaching the river, including one 4 feet long that was reinforced with bolted plates. A 1993 entry noted 3,000 feet of cracks in the surface of the bridge; they were later sealed.

Engineers wondered whether heavy traffic might have contributed to the collapse. Studies of the bridge have raised concern about cracks caused by metal fatigue.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said while the inspection didn't indicate the bridge was at risk of failing, "if an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty responded Thursday by ordering an immediate inspection of all bridges in the state with similar designs, but said the state was never warned that the bridge needed to be closed or immediately repaired.

So whose responsibility was it? It is clear that the bridge was declared "deficient" in 1990 and every year since. The families of the dead, the missing and the injured would like to know.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

50th Anniversary of the Edsel

Today's New York Times features an article entitled "To Ford, a Disaster. To Edsel Owners, Love," which chronicles how Edsel fans are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the auto industry's most famous failure.

Failure magazine's March 2002 feature - Edsel: An Auto Biography.