Are humans enough control?

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?

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Filed under Business Case, Compliance, Controls, Culture, Duty of Care, Governance, Internal controls, Legal, Operations, Requirements, Risk, Use

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