To understand systemic failures and learn from them, one needs to go beyond analyzing them as independent one-off accidents, and examine them in the broader perspective of the potential fragility of all complex systems. One needs to study the disasters from a unifying systems engineering perspective, so that one can thoroughly understand the commonalities as well as the differences, gain insights about the system-wide breakdown mechanisms in order to better design, control and manage such systems in the future. In our Center, we conduct such transdisciplinary research.
Addressing all aspects of systemic failures and drawing appropriate lessons from them requires tackling this problem at all levels. The challenges can be broadly classified into the following six categories: (i) technological – e.g., processing equipment, computing hardware and software; (ii) personnel – quantity and quality of the work force; (iii) procedures – standard operating procedures, best practices, etc.,; (iv) management and culture – communication, priorities, incentives, resources, safety culture, etc.,; (v) regulatory – effectiveness, conflict of interest, enforcement, etc.,; and (vi) conceptual – intellectual challenges.
Clearly, to cope with such complexity one needs concepts, methodologies, and automation tools to model, analyze, predict, explain, control and manage the behavior of such a system and its agents and components in various environments. While there exists considerable literature on various methodologies from reliability engineering, probabilistic risk assessment, failure mode and effects analysis, process hazards analysis, etc., which do help in addressing some of these questions, further progress is needed to address newer aspects of the complexity in these systems-of-systems. The intellectual challenges associated with these questions can be categorized into three broad classes of conceptual problems: (i) Complexity Science, (ii) Multi-Perspective Modeling, and (iii) Hybrid Intelligent Systems for Real-time Decision-Making. Our Center works on making advancements along these categories.