Category Archives: Knowledge Transfer

Are all disasters preventable? (Earthquakes and Positive Train Control)

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The Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction at United Nations Environment Programme, Muralee Thummarukudy stated, “Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do.” Click here for more on an environmental overview of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti – page 17. When the dust finally settled in Haiti, people will be able to identify the single most important agent of mass death and destruction: concrete. Thummarukudy continued in his TedX talk to say more to that point: poorly designed buildings kill people. Click the picture to the left to see the very impressive 16 minute TedX talk.

Thummarukudy also said, “We should always look backward before you plan forward.” – Rings true of the “Be Prepared” post. Think of how important using lessons learned can be when we properly incoprporate them into the next performance of a task. Knowledge is transfered.

Current info on Thummarukudy can be found here.

Click here for an interview (of Thummarkudy) by a student in Bangladore on what a career in disaster management is like.

A little about Engineered Barriers and PTC

So, why talk about disaster management and PTC in the same post? Engineered safeguards (barriers) are the best defense against human error and natural disaster. It reminds me of the reducing radiation exposure concept for nuclear workers – ALARA (As low as reasonably acheivable), and how time, distance, and shielding are the engineering controls designed to protect the worker.

According to a June 19, 2013 youtube clip, the American railroad infrastructure needs billions of dollars for track improvement and updating. Lawmakers are trying to figure out who is going to pay what and when it’s needed by in the wake of a large number of train disasters in 2013. One thought is to install new anti-crash signaling technology called Positive Train Control, but who will pay for it, and who needs it done and by when. These are interesting topics to follow as time progresses.

PTC stands for Positive Train Control and according to wikipedia it is a system of functional requirements for monitoring and controlling train movements to provide increased safety.

The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) describes Positive Train Control as having these primary characteristics:

  • Train separation or collision avoidance
  • Line speed enforcement
  • Temporary speed restrictions
  • Rail worker wayside safety

Positive Train Control (PTC)

  • Designed to eliminate the verbal “read and repeat” process
  • Real-time monitoring
  • Manual Switch positions
  • Distribution of speed restriction

PTC with an Affective message here.

Click here for an older video showing how ETMS (Electronic Train Management System – BNSF’s version of Positive Train Control) works. Since the system is still a work in progress things in this video are likely to change for the better but it’s still a great demonstration of how the system works. In the end it will just make for a safer railway.

More info on PTC can be found at or at Wikipedia here.