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    Former COMNAVSEA Sullivan packs house at Carderock for lecture on submarine safety

    Former COMNAVSEA Sullivan packs house at Carderock for lecture on submarine safety

    Courtesy Photo | USS Thresher (SSN 593) at sea on July 24, 1961. (U.S. Navy photo from collections of...... read more read more



    Story by Benjamin McKnight III 

    Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division

    Every seat in the David Taylor room at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division was filled on Feb. 14 to hear retired Vice Adm. Paul Sullivan’s lecture on submarine safety. Having served as the 41st commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, Sullivan’s presence alone brought a wealth of experience for his audience to glean from.

    His lecture, titled “Submarine Safety: Legacy and Culture,” part of Carderock’s Rear Adm. David Taylor Naval Architecture Lecture Series, was both a history lesson and a presentation on modern submarine safety.

    In a perfect world, all naval equipment would operate to perfection. Since that is not the case, every system needs plans of action when malfunctions or damages occur. Underwater vessels have a lower margin of error if something catastrophic happens. According to Sullivan, however, that is part of the cycle that produces future safety measures.

    “How do you get a safety culture? It’s a journey, and it’s generally brought on by tragedy,” Sullivan said. He then presented a diagram to explain the steps that occur following said tragedy. Initially, recovery, analysis and corrective actions take place. “With each disaster, we learn more lessons,” he said. Once the errors are studied and improvements are applied, the end product is a “successful safety culture.”

    Ideally, the cycle would end there, but with success comes complacency, according to Sullivan. The safety culture process takes years, so those who are in charge while a system is operating at optimal functionality are typically not the ones who dealt with the previous disaster.

    “A couple generations of leadership and middle-management changeover and all of a sudden you’re being led by people who did not experience the tragedy,” Sullivan said. “So you get complacent and guess what happens? You get another tragedy.”

    One of those tragedies was the loss of USS Thresher (SSN 593) in 1963. The submarine was conducting deep-diving tests 220 miles off of the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, when it sank, taking the lives of all 129 personnel aboard. According to Sullivan, a series of malfunctions, including a flooding casualty in the engine room resulting from a piping failure in one of the salt-water systems, likely led Thresher to sink, ultimately exceeding her crush depth.

    True to the cycle of safety culture that Sullivan spoke on, the sinking of Thresher was followed by widespread design and specification reviews. The Navy lacked a true doctrinal guide to submarine safety at that time and from the lessons of Thresher’s loss, the Submarine Safety Program (SUBSAFE) was born.

    Sullivan said during his lecture that there were other submarine disasters that contributed to what SUBSAFE is today, but he spoke mostly on Thresher as the SUBSAFE origins date back to that year.

    The Navy spent the next decade researching new safety methods to apply and issued the Submarine Material Certification Requirements Manual for the Submarine Safety Program in 1974—currently titled Submarine Safety (SUBSAFE) Requirements Manual. Elements of the SUBSAFE program include boundaries, design reviews and multiple certification requirements. There are many ways for a submarine to malfunction, so SUBSAFE focuses on submarine flooding and recovery from a flooding casualty.

    “It doesn’t cover electrical hazards or shipboard fires. Flooding and flooding recovery; that’s it,” Sullivan said.

    Part of the learning process includes assessing incidents of near misses. Because disasters are usually a result of multiple failures, it is as equally important to investigate the string in the close calls as it is with complete failures.

    “Let’s say you fix one thing that would have killed everybody, but you didn’t look at the other four or five things that were in that chain,” Sullivan said. “Near misses are important because you have to actually pick them apart and find the rest.”

    Rather than guaranteeing a perfect end result from unpacking non-lethal issues, Sullivan said there would be a much greater chance of a related issue happening in the future.

    Equipment catastrophes are not limited to the Navy, as some of the most recognized examples Sullivan cited were not military related at all. When NASA lost lives in the explosions of two space shuttles, Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003, flights were delayed just over two years both times. Each shuttle saw a series of delays prior to their launchings and the former of the two didn’t even make it to space before tragedy struck.

    Abiding by SUBSAFE standards has paid off for the Navy, as no SUBSAFE-certified submarine has been lost since the program began. Sullivan emphasized the need to always pay attention to details and avoid complacency with current successes for this streak to stay intact.



    Date Taken: 02.14.2019
    Date Posted: 03.08.2019 14:04
    Story ID: 313570
    Location: WEST BETHESDA, MD, US

    Web Views: 264
    Downloads: 1