Friday, May 1, 2020

NTSB Issues Findings on Duck Boat Sinking at Table Rock Lake

U.S. Coast Guard
The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has an insightful story on the NTSB's findings pertaining to the July, 2018, sinking of the duck boat at Table Rock Lake that killed 17.

The story more than speaks for itself but I do have a couple of comments to add.

1) The NTSB said Branson Ride the Ducks' (the company that owned the boats, BRTD) operating rules were vague. After 47 years of working with people and businesses to mitigate the effects of extreme weather, I found that if there weren't well-defined, explicit rules, weather warnings are disregarded. That was the case in the sinking.

It is absolutely essential the operating rules for weather emergencies match the verbiage in the storm warnings, e.g., "for a tornado warning, stop all operations." If the instructions say, "stop operations for a tornado alert" then nothing will occur except confusion (there is no such thing as a tornado "alert").

Otherwise, people make it up as they go along, often with disastrous results because people dislike having the responsibility for making these decisions. Too often, the deciding factor is (literally) looking out the window.

2) In the immediate aftermath of the sinking, there were rumors BRTD had a private sector weather company. I was even contacted by an attorney who had that impression. Turns out, that wasn't exactly correct. Per the Post's story, BRTD had a service called "Streaming RT" which is lightning and radar data plus NWS warnings. This is different from a service where meteorologists are working 24/7 creating specifically custom warnings for that customer at that location.

Streaming RT sent email alerts at 6:32 and 6:49; before the boat entered the water.
Marketing information for Streaming RT
Based on my experience, there are serious issues with this approach. For mission-critical (and, in this case, human life) decisions, a company like BRTD should never rely on email. Email is routine and most people do not monitor it constantly. Life-saving information can be missed as was likely was in this case. There needs to be a fail-safe system for insuring mission-critical information is received.

Second, what meteorologists call the "false alarm rate" for these services is often high. So, the alerts become routine and not acted upon -- then, tragedy occurs. To best assure everyone's safety (or, for making decisions of high economic value), enterprises should contract with a commercial weather company that makes warnings tailored to the exact requirements of the customer. That way, there are no unnecessary false alarms.

There are far too many of these "ticking time bombs" in the business community. Aquatic businesses,  theme parks, golf tournaments, sports stadia, and similar outdoor enterprises serving the public should have dedicated commercial weather companies providing tailored warnings.

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