18Nov14

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Pushing the limits – Managing risk in a faster, taller, bigger worldPushing the limits – Managing risk in a faster, taller, bigger world

Faster bullet trains, taller skyscrapers, longer bridges – our world is moving into new technological dimensions at the beginning of the 21st century. This process is not limited to infrastructure: while nanotechnology is conquering the micro-world, highspeed trading is accelerating the stock exchange, and ships in ever-larger dimensions are ploughing the oceans. Superlatives abound, generating a new environment for us to live in. A growing global population drives the development of this new world. The majority of people now live in cities. The challenge of delivering goods and services on an increasing scale to growing towns triggers the need for novel and innovative technologies. These bring not only new benefits; they can also entail new risks. Our world, therefore, not only surprises us every day with new records; it also changes the risk landscape in many ways.

 
When the world moves faster, we have less time to react to avoid accidents. When buildings become taller, they must be more stable. And when ships become bigger, more is lost when they sink. So technology is pushing our systems to new limits. The question that arises is − which safety margins will be able to accommodate these changes when we want to keep our current levels of safety? Especially in a world where human failure is the key driver for many losses? After all, developments in safety, technology and human behaviour are often not aligned with scientific advances. This opens up space for incidents. And given the increasing dimensions in the world we build, negative effects of failures can occur on unprecedented scales. Some of these effects can be seen already in the case study highlights presented in this publication; others have not yet manifested themselves. While the upsides of new technologies become evident right away, experience shows that there is a time lag until the arrival of the first unintended negative effects.
(Contribution of a SCOR expert in an external publication)