Thursday, April 12, 2012

Titanic Ideas

Tragic Story
On April 10, 1912, RMS Titanic left the port of South Hampton on its maiden voyage with the destination of New York City.  Over 2,200 passengers and crew were on the ship.  After two days of uneventful and smooth sailing, on April 14 Titanic struck an iceberg and immediately began taking on water.  The 16 lifeboats were haphazardly deployed and many were only partially filled.  In less than three hours from when the iceberg was struck, Titanic sank below the water.  Over 1,500 passengers and crew perished, most freezing to death in the frigid water. This week marks the centennial anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic. Said to be "virtually unsinkable," Titanic has acquired a mythic status as a story of tragic, avoidable loss.

In 1985, Titanic was discovered by explorer Robert Ballard.  A rebirth of interest in the Titanic began in 1997 with the release of Titanic, a movie by James Cameron, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. 

Personal Interest
I have been interested in the story of RMS Titanic since fourth grade.  One of the first books that I owned was A Night To Remember by Walter Lord.  In preparing for his book, Walter Lord interviewed over 60 survivors from Titanic. I still have this book with my signature, as it was in fourth grade, on the front, inside cover.

4th grade signature

My personal copy of A Night To Remember has survived six moves as a child and adult!

As a child, I spent a couple of weeks each summer with my grandmother near Dothan, Alabama.  As a member of the American Association of Retired People, she received the AARP magazine monthly.  During the summer of 1985 the news of Titanic's discovery was the cover story feature.  I was excited to read about the discovery, even it was in a magazine for old people (there was not much to do at my grandmother's)!

My parents had a large world map posted on one of the walls in our family room.  Based on the estimated coordinates of the sinking, I marked the map with a small x and the notation "Titanic sinking."

One hundred years later, the hull of Titanic is slowly deteriorating.  At some point, despite the best efforts to preserve it, the ship will fade away.  What will remain are the metaphors or lessons that Titanic represents:
  • Overconfidence - Watertight compartments were thought to render the ship "virtually unsinkable" because designers did not anticipate that multiple compartments would sustain damage.  As the first compartments flooded, the water spilled into the next compartment in a cascading fashion.
  • Training - The crew was not sufficiently trained on emergency procedures.  There were several problems encountered as lifeboats were lowered.   
  •  Communication - Beyond the miscommunications of the crew on Titanic, other ships in the area were not manning their communication stations.  
  • Crisis Management - Because neither the crew nor the passengers imagined that Titanic could sink, there was a considerable delay in preparing the lifeboats.  If there was an evacuation plan, it was not followed and chaos started as soon as passengers finally did realize that the ship would sink.
What other lessons can we learn from the tragedy of Titanic?

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