Heroes and Villains (that really were not)

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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All right. So I am going to spend a while answering this because, frankly, it's a really important subject which I later intend to bring up in regard to the performance of Titanic. If we are going to be analyzing human factors on the Californian, I assure you, there are glaring issues in more than one place on this unfortunate night.

So, the field began with The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents, written by David Beaty, who was an RAF pilot and later BOAC commercial pilot. The book came out in the late 1950s, but it took a while for it to evolve into the field we today call "CRM". Adding on to this in the 1970s was some work by NASA psychologist John Lauber, who studied the way interactions in the cockpit actually functioned and the consequences of them.

The critical issue is that you have a fundamental tension between the fact that everyone in a crew--aircrew or even a 1912 steamship--is a highly trained and experienced individual who knows their job and knows their job environment well. But there is also a strict chain of command. The critical breakthrough in Crew Resource Management is really the management of information flow in that chain of command. Since being highly used in the aircraft industry, the basic principles have gone into everything involving dangerous, time-critical decisions. I've certainly been exposed to them in the safety work for my refrigerated tow tanks and other facilities.

Probably the most important observation here from cockpit voice recordings of aircraft accidents is THIS ONE, and I use all-caps because of how important it is: Junior personnel frequently bring critical information to the Captain's attention in an indirect and ineffective manner because of social hierarchy. The failure to provide an assertive statement results in the Captain processing the information badly because the context around it is now telling him that it is not important.

Lightoller was about the only man to use assertive but respectful communication correctly that night if you believe his own memoirs when he assertively requested permission from Captain Smith to begin loading the boats.

If Stone had been using an assertive approach as CRM would teach, his conversation with Captain Lord would have gone something like this:

"Captain, Sir. I'm concerned that these rockets we've sighted are distress signals. They meet the definition, even though they're slow, and this is a very dangerous patch of water tonight. I recommend we wake Evans to listen for a distress signal. Do you concur?"

Opening -- Concern -- Problem -- Solution -- Buy-in -- five step communication process. The whole point, the whole problem that has to be addressed, is that the impulse of many people lower down in a hierarchy is to present information in a "respectful" manner, but this also creates the impression in someone hearing that information that it is less important.

Teaching Crew Resource Management to senior officers is about teaching them to proactively inspire their subordinates to disrupt and avoid this tendency to "soften" information going up the chain. It's about treating the entire crew as "equal but different" in a certain respect -- each person has a role assigned to them, and in that role, they are the expert. Information they are passing up from their area of competency is relevant by definition.

On the junior side, it's about learning to communicate information both effectively and respectfully.

I would say that in 1912 a "good" crew already practiced this -- one where the junior officers trusted that their Captain would back them up if they made the right call, and one where the Captain had reason to trust his junior officers to make decisions appropriately. A ship where the men were respected as experienced seamen who could be relied upon to communicate any issues with the ship or operations effectively because they trusted their chain of command would show them right. The process wasn't systematized, but might well have been an ideal which reflected a good command culture.

I think the evidence suggests neither Titanic nor Californian had such and it profoundly impacted what they did that night.
You are correct in one thing. Long before David Beaty was born, Merchant and Royal Navy crews were trained to act in exactly the way you describe. Particularly on the bridge where each officer normally served below his qualified ran
However, you are way off base in respect of 2nd officer Stone or any other of the Deck Officers with perhaps, the exception of Californian's 3rd Officer who I think allowed personal problems to cloud his evidence, but that's another matter.

If we accept the evidence of Captain Lord and of Apprentice Gibson, then Stone did exactly as he was expected to do. He saw signals which he did not match to any known signal and immediately reported it to the Master and left it up to him to decide any further action necessary. In fact Stone said exactly that in his evidence given on Day of the UK inquiry. I quote:
" I just took them as white rockets, and informed the Master and left him to judge.
7854. Do you mean to say you did not think for yourself? I thought you told us just now that you did think."

(That final remark was sarcastic intimidation of the very worst kind.)

What you, Stone's tormentor, and many others do not seem to know is that there was a saying among bridge Officers in the Merchant Service, perpetuated by Nautical Colleges throughout the UK it was "If in doubt, get the Old Man out."
Not only that but normally, the bottom line of the Master's Night Order Book was "if in any doubt, do not hesitate to call me."
All Watchkeeping Officers were duty-bound to sign the Order Book.
Stone was, if anything, a "by-the-book" Officer.
 

mitfrc

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Jan 3, 2017
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Jim, I am graphically aware of the importance of bringing problems to the Captain's attention and the way this is handled. The USN has recently had several serious incidents with loss of life because of hesitation on the part of junior officers to act appropriately.

If Stone correctly conveyed the information or not, the final torment rests on Lord--either of those cases, the blame falls on the Captain, as those naval incidents I reference make abundantly clear.

For those reading along with less solid footing--watch this training video which was made after the Melbourne-Evans incident. It shows lessons the USN graphically forgot by 2017, ironically.


Jim, let me say at this point that if there was a valid, lawful reason to regard Titanic's signals as anything other than a distressed signal, you are correct in full.

The only "question" between us is whether or not it was valid under law to interpret those signals as something other than a distress signal. My speculation about Californian's crew only has merit if it was not.

Lawful--that is part of it. The mitigating factor also relevant is whether or not the intent of the law was so systematically violated in normal practice as to make alternative interpretation acceptable. I am open to the idea of a lax safety culture on which signals which should have been reserved for distress were regularly used for other purposes, but in that case why was this not assessed at the hearings and why hasn't substantially more evidence been provided to that effect?
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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Funchal. Madeira
Just another one of those ''dumb questions'' to be filed with the footnote of ''the only dumb question is the one you don't ask'' ............But here goes anyway.......LOL

In the opinions of the more learned naval experts on this forum do you think that if Captain Smith would have been influenced by all the ice reports - received or not received - that he would have chosen to stop for the night as California did ? Or would he have risked his job if he did so ?
Hello, Robert.

Captain Smith seems to have matched the reports to his knowledge of how ice behaved in that part of the world. i.e. that the historic position given to him was way to the west and north of his planned track and that ice normally moved East and north. Therefore, if it was, say, 10 miles north of his intended track 24 hours previously, and he had still 12 hours to run to a position south of that, then during the 36 hours between original position and then...if the ice was moving at say 0.5 knots, it would be 18 miles further north and east of it's reported position.
If, he had received Californian's warning, he would have been told of ice which was 5 miles farther north of the original warning. This would only have confirmed to him that the ice was moving slower than he thought it was.
if, like the Mount Temple, he had received the Corinthian ice warning of ice at 41-25'North, he would probably have steered to the southward of that and given it a 10 mile wide berth.
 
May 3, 2005
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Thanks again , Jim , for taking the time to answer laymen's questions......
I have noticed you get into some rather heated differences of opinions with other persons who are far more experts on many matters (unnamed) on these forums. LOL

My main question was (under any extreme circumstances ) a big ''IF'' :
IF Captain Smith would have ever chosen to stop for the night , and IF so , what kind of response he would have gotten from the ''Higher Ups'' of White Star ?

And perhaps the biggest ''IF'' ..... Which has already been covered anyway :
But :
''IF'' the ''Mesaba Ice Report'' had NOT been reported to the bridge as it has been allegedly reported ; BUT ''IF'' it HAD been reported to the bridge , would it have had any effect on the decision ; and if so, stopping for the night would have been considered ; and ''IF'' so, would the Captain expect dire consequences for his decision ?
 
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Julian Atkins

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Sep 23, 2017
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All right. So I am going to spend a while answering this because, frankly, it's a really important subject which I later intend to bring up in regard to the performance of Titanic. If we are going to be analyzing human factors on the Californian, I assure you, there are glaring issues in more than one place on this unfortunate night.

So, the field began with The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents, written by David Beaty, who was an RAF pilot and later BOAC commercial pilot. The book came out in the late 1950s, but it took a while for it to evolve into the field we today call "CRM". Adding on to this in the 1970s was some work by NASA psychologist John Lauber, who studied the way interactions in the cockpit actually functioned and the consequences of them.

The critical issue is that you have a fundamental tension between the fact that everyone in a crew--aircrew or even a 1912 steamship--is a highly trained and experienced individual who knows their job and knows their job environment well. But there is also a strict chain of command. The critical breakthrough in Crew Resource Management is really the management of information flow in that chain of command. Since being highly used in the aircraft industry, the basic principles have gone into everything involving dangerous, time-critical decisions. I've certainly been exposed to them in the safety work for my refrigerated tow tanks and other facilities.

Probably the most important observation here from cockpit voice recordings of aircraft accidents is THIS ONE, and I use all-caps because of how important it is: Junior personnel frequently bring critical information to the Captain's attention in an indirect and ineffective manner because of social hierarchy. The failure to provide an assertive statement results in the Captain processing the information badly because the context around it is now telling him that it is not important.

Lightoller was about the only man to use assertive but respectful communication correctly that night if you believe his own memoirs when he assertively requested permission from Captain Smith to begin loading the boats.

If Stone had been using an assertive approach as CRM would teach, his conversation with Captain Lord would have gone something like this:

"Captain, Sir. I'm concerned that these rockets we've sighted are distress signals. They meet the definition, even though they're slow, and this is a very dangerous patch of water tonight. I recommend we wake Evans to listen for a distress signal. Do you concur?"

Opening -- Concern -- Problem -- Solution -- Buy-in -- five step communication process. The whole point, the whole problem that has to be addressed, is that the impulse of many people lower down in a hierarchy is to present information in a "respectful" manner, but this also creates the impression in someone hearing that information that it is less important.

Teaching Crew Resource Management to senior officers is about teaching them to proactively inspire their subordinates to disrupt and avoid this tendency to "soften" information going up the chain. It's about treating the entire crew as "equal but different" in a certain respect -- each person has a role assigned to them, and in that role, they are the expert. Information they are passing up from their area of competency is relevant by definition.

On the junior side, it's about learning to communicate information both effectively and respectfully.

I would say that in 1912 a "good" crew already practiced this -- one where the junior officers trusted that their Captain would back them up if they made the right call, and one where the Captain had reason to trust his junior officers to make decisions appropriately. A ship where the men were respected as experienced seamen who could be relied upon to communicate any issues with the ship or operations effectively because they trusted their chain of command would show them right. The process wasn't systematized, but might well have been an ideal which reflected a good command culture.

I think the evidence suggests neither Titanic nor Californian had such and it profoundly impacted what they did that night.
Hi Marina,

That is a very good post, and thank you for taking the trouble to type it all out.

Unlike Jim, I don't think for one moment these things were understood or commonplace in 1912.

The Battle of Jutland suggests quite the contrary in the Royal Navy in WW1.

What happened on The Californian and Titanic in 1912 suggests quite the contrary also.

Of the 2 major works on the subject of 'The Californian Incident' namely Harrisons' 'Titanic Myth', and Reade's 'The Ship That Stood Still', both highlight failings that night on The Californian.

What I hope is beyond doubt is that Captain Lord suggested to Stone that what he had seen were 'company signals' instead of something far more serious. We know for a fact, because Stone admitted it, that he had neither previously seen 'company signals' nor distress rockets. He did not even know what the Leyland Line 'company signals' were let alone those for the White Star Line or any other Line. (In both cases the Leyland Line and White Star 'company signals' were NOT 'white rockets).

Captain Lord's interjection of 'were they company signals' was completely absurd at the time and today. Captain Lord had not seen any 'company signals' since 1904. He ought to have known that no ship would fire off white rockets/socket signals on the high seas in 1912 as 'company signals' as the register of company signals would easily show (and no doubt a copy of this publication was in his chart room).

One can only conclude Captain Lord that night did not want to hear of any distress rockets, and deliberately sought to confuse Stone as to what Stone was trying to report and was seeing.

What we do know as a fact is that latter when Gibson saw the Carpathia's rockets (he saw 3, and Stone saw 2 not as clearly as Gibson) they both made no attempt to report these further rockets seen to Captain Lord.

The apocryphal hearsay evidence in Paul Lee's book is that by then Stone had given up trying to get Captain Lord to the bridge and turned to Gibson and exclaimed 'Let the b-rstard sleep'. That reflects both on Stone and Captain Lord.

Captain Lord wrote in a letter after the British Inquiry he admitted there was some 'slackness' on his ship, and he deliberately, in numerous letters, implicated Stone as the culprit.

Cheers,

Julian