Learn From Disasters

April 18, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

Today is the 110th anniversary of the Titanic sinking.

All these years, that fateful night still fascinates us, including myself. Why?

It was the largest, most luxurious ship, deemed unsinkable; but tragically did on its maiden voyage, left in shambles on the ocean floor. A testament to mankind’s creativity, wealth, accomplishment, pride, and arrogance.

Imagine if a star sports player, highly touted as the next big one, plays their first game, and suffers a career injury. Imagine what could have been. What was taken so quickly. Not only for the player and their family, but the team, the sport in general, the world. The highlight reels, records created, moments to remember and talk about, merchandising, all gone.

That was the Titanic sinking. The voyages it could have gone on, the stories told, memories created. What it could have done for travel, and the world.

Of course, the real tragedy was the loss of 1500 people in the cold North Atlantic, mainly because there weren’t enough lifeboats. They were designed to carry people to close ships, as shipping lanes were busy and was figured there’d be time to save everyone.

It seems like every day a disaster happens. It could be something small as a car crash, to something big like the Boeing 737 MAX.

When I was 11, one Friday night, my dad and I came across this documentary on T.V. It’s called Disasters of the Century. I was captivated by it, watching it whenever it came on, learning so many moments and events. One episode of a Canadian disaster, then an international one, focusing on the 20th century.

I highly recommend watching it. You learn so much history, especially highlighting towns, cultures, and ways of life in different time periods of Canada and the world. It’s on the YouTube channel Bad Day HQ.

Disasters vary in cause, damage, and solutions.

Sometimes it’s mother nature herself changing how we perceive the weather, and us adapting.

Whether we create stronger structures to better handle tornadoes, avalanches, earthquakes, hurricanes, we’re always resilient in improving ourselves and way of life.

Sometimes disasters happen that have smaller repercussions. Often times it only impacts a certain area. Like the Aberfan Mine Disaster. Or the 1919 Boston Molasses Flood.

Other times they trigger massive ripple effects. Take the Irish Potato Famine. It changed the country’s landscape in many ways, contributing significantly to mass immigration to North America. The Hindenburg Disaster ended the airship era. Though 9/11 happened in the States, it impacted and changed air travel forever.

Often times, small moments have larger repercussions.

The Halifax Explosion in 1917, was the result of two ships, the SS Mont Blanc – carrying explosives – and the SS Imo, simply miscalculating their respective courses.

This simple event created the largest non-nuclear explosion, releasing an energy equivalent of 2.9 kilotons of TNT. Halifax was nearly obliterated, killing almost 2,000 people, and injuring 9,000, many blind from flying glass.

Other times it’s a chain reaction. The night Titanic struck the iceberg, the water was calm, making it difficult to see waves hitting icebergs. The ship was still travelling at max speed in the ice fields. The lack of urgency from the crew – launching the first lifeboat an hour after collision – and a lack of safety drills for everyone onboard meant the evacuation was inefficient. And lifeboats launching barely half full, were all contributing factors to the huge loss of life.

Human error plays a big role in disasters. Take Chernobyl, and the devastating environmental effects. It was made worse by the negligence of plant maintenance, and poor handling of the nuclear meltdown.

Whether by accident, or design, disasters show we are flawed. Mistakes, hubris, anything creates disasters. We continue to learn lessons from our mistakes, and improve safety regulations.

Ever wonder where emergency exit signs came from? Or why emergency doors swing outward? It’s in thanks, unfortunately, to the 492 people who died in Boston’s Cocoanut Grove Fire in 1942. The doors swung inwards, and the stampede of people trying to escape meant they couldn’t open them, instead being trampled and suffocated.

Every building code, safety measures, rules, and health standards, are written in the blood of countless victims. Born out of death and tragedy.

Fortunately, there’s a bright side. Fukushima and the Andrea Doria were disasters that averted large scale catastrophe. Technological improvements allow better understanding and preparation.

Human life is fragile, and despite our best efforts, it remains so. Weather is the one thing we can’t control, something we must learn to live and deal with. Human error is even harder. Whatever we create, it’s easier to destroy.

Since Titanic, maritime safety regulations vastly and quickly improved, including mandatory safety drills, enough lifeboats for all passengers, and constant communication. Just a shame it took 1500 lives to implement.

One thing is certain about disasters; they’ll always happen. Question is, are we better prepared? And will we learn next time?

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