The fatal train crash in New York on Sunday remains under investigation. But what does it have to do with information?
I am reminded of an old (1932) Learned Hand (well-known, respected judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals) opinion about coal barges off the coast of Delaware. If the barges had had a radio, they would have known about an upcoming storm and pulled into port. They didn’t, and they didn’t, and the barges were lost in the storm. A radio was not legally required, but others used them. There was a violation of a duty even though a radio was not legally required.
The train involved in Sunday’s crash did not have “positive train controls,” which slows a train down if it goes too fast. Other trains have these controls, and the line at issue is legally required to install them by the end of next year. Having a black box to prove it after the fact doesn’t prevent it before the crash. And I wager there’s a policy about speeding, and falling asleep. And I bet that others had exceeded posted speeds.
“Speed Cited in Fatal Crash,” December 3, 2013 A3 http://on.wsj.com/1cka0dU
Is a machine a better control than a human? When hundreds of lives are at stake? Better yet, can you use both?
One of the controls your company puts in place to prevent violations of law is a policy. Another is a process. Another is a human checking that another human is following the process. Can you rely on your employees to obey the information-related laws and policies that apply to their activities? Do you want to supplement the human element with a machine control? How do you fight a culture that allows speeding? What’s reasonable?