We are witnessing a tragedy unfold, and a prime example of what happens when engineers don’t deliver on their basic responsibilities to society. Maybe the engineers who designed the BP oil platform in the gulf just plain made a mistake in their design, or maybe they knew the design wasn’t right but were ordered to go ahead anyway, and didn’t tell anyone that corners were being cut. Either way an engineered system has catastrophically failed, and it seems like we’re only beginning to see the extent of the damage to the ecosystem and the economy. A number of folks are dead, a lot of animals are going to die, the livelihood of millions of folks is at peril, and some environmental treasures are .
So what’s next? First, we’ll hopefully see some innovative folks perform some engineering miracles and stop the release of more oil.
But after that task is complete, there’s a bigger question: what about the rest of the offshore well? Is it possible for this to be repeated many times over? Are other wells the same? Safer? Less safe? This is one of the important cases where its not going to be good enough to get the data filtered by BP’s PR department – we need and deserve to get real, engineering facts from people who understand them.
So who are the engineers that are going to help us understand what we’re up against? Can we take an engineering disaster and gain some good from it in the form of a new level of communication between the engineering community and society?