Heathrow Terminal 5 – a example of interdependency?

April 1, 2008

As some of you will know the EPAC call sandpit attendees went on a tour around Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport last Nov, it was impressive. Most of you will also know that things didn’t go according to plan in the opening week. Thousands of bags have been lost or delayed en-route, hundreds or cancelled flights and lots of irate passengers.

But what happened?

Well reports have been range from lack of training, internal staff communications, lift failures, system logins not working and car-park spaces not being available. The question is how much of this could have been prevented and foreseen and how much could not. There is a theory within critical information infrastructure analysis which speaks of major failures starting with a small insignificant event which on its own would not even be noticed. This then snowballs into a bigger event and so on until a major problem develops and a major event occurs.

This is known in scientific terms as a cascade effect or failure.

But was this what happened at T5? Well we know that extensive testing/modelling/dry runs were performed in the months prior to go live, but were assumptions made like baggage handlers being in place on time? All the logins working and users signed in? There we enough car parking spaces!?

In this complex and interdependent world, a small disruption to the supply chain have dramatic ramifications if left uncontrolled and unchecked.  Just-in-time services work well and deliver huge efficiency savings but they are much less resilient than traditional systems.

T5 may well be one of these occasions.



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