Combining captivating storytelling with eye-opening findings, Inviting Disaster delves inside some of history's worst catastrophes in order to show how increasingly "smart" systems leave us wide open to human tragedy. Weaving a dramatic narrative that explains how breakdowns in these systems result in such disasters as the chain reaction crash of the Air France Concorde to the meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, Chiles vividly demonstrates how the battle between man and machine may be escalating beyond manageable limits -- and why we all have a stake in its outcome.
Included in this edition is a special introduction providing a behind-the-scenes look at the World Trade Center catastrophe. Combining firsthand accounts of employees' escapes with an in-depth look at the structural reasons behind the towers' collapse, Chiles addresses the question, Were the towers "two tall heroes" or structures with a fatal flaw? Help Centre. My Wishlist Sign In Join. Be the first to write a review. Share This eBook:. Add to Wishlist. Instant Download. Description Table of Contents eBook Details Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book!
Industry Reviews "ultimatly hopeful, recounting numerous acts of foresight or bravery in the face of bureaucratic opposition". Acknowledgments -- Special introduction to the paperback edition -- Introduction : On the machine frontier : new technology and old habits -- Shock wave : high tech on the high seas -- Blind spot : baffled and bewildered inside the massive system -- Rush to judgment : when flagship projects run out of time -- Doubtless : testing is such a bother -- Really bad day : panic and triumph on the machine frontier -- Tunnel vision : go away, I'm busy -- Red line running : humans have a limit, too -- Crack in the system : failure starts slow, but it grows -- Healthy fear : alive and alert at danger's edge -- That human touch : how little errors make big accidents -- Robbing the pillar : slacking off with the high-power system -- Machine man : surviving and thriving on the new frontier -- Disasters, calamities, and near misses cited in the book.
One was Rescorla, who stayed till the last, personally checking every floor. Why did terrorists target the Trade Center? Though not the tallest skyscrapers in the world by , the Trade Center with all its buildings was a huge office complex, with fifty thousand workers on a typical day. And there were two towers, standing close together, raising the possibility among amateurs that a disaster might topple one into the other, domino fashion. Ramzi Yousef, who headed the Philippine-based group that detonated a truck bomb on the B2 level of the Trade Center in , told a federal agent afterward that he had hoped a blast at the base of the North Tower would cause it to fall over, wiping out the South Tower at the same time along with many buildings in the vicinity.
He had wanted a holocaust that would kill a quarter million people. Publicity over the O. Joshua Sinai, a consultant on terrorism and threat assessment, told me. Transcripts showed that [the terrorists] were intent on coming back and getting the job done right. That testimony about the bombing was one of several precursor events, occurring as late as August , hinting that the terror network was planning a second and more powerful attack on the Trade Center towers.
Inviting Disaster: Lessons From the Edge of Technology
Robertson had told me years before that it was highly unlikely that one tower would topple into the other, under any circumstances. One reason they did not do so on September 11 was because the towers were offset on the plaza, their corners feet apart, rather than placed side by side. Given that much of the falling steel burst straight out from the sides, if the towers had been placed side by side, the falling South Tower probably would have notched the lower floors of the North Tower and collapsed it seconds later, a half hour before it actually fell, while hundreds of people were still in the North Tower stairwells.
The idea of using airliners as flying firebombs goes back to April , when vengeful FedEx employee Auburn Calloway attacked the pilots and engineer of a DC freighter over Arkansas with the alleged intent to seize the controls and crash the jumbo jet into the Memphis hub of his employer. Only the grim determination of the three grievously injured crew members stopped him. A terrorist plot, foiled later the same year, hijacked an airliner out of Algeria with the intent of crashing it into a Paris landmark.
Authorities had long known of the risk that accidental aircraft collisions posed to building occupants. The first big disaster of this kind came in February , when a B prototype crashed into the fifth floor of the Frye Meat Packing plant in Seattle, burning down the building and killing twenty-one workers.
An El Al freighter crashed between two Amsterdam apartment buildings in October , demolishing the ends of the buildings and killing at least fifty people on the ground.
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A similar incident followed in , when a giant Russian An transport crashed into an apartment in Irkutsk during takeoff after losing power on two engines. It was 1, feet too low, flying in cloud on an approach to Kennedy Airport, but a radar controller saw the danger and radioed the pilot, who swerved with less than a minute to spare. The whole subject concerned James Sutherland, an engineer who wrote a chillingly predictive paper titled The Sequel to Ronan Point in for the Structural Engineers Association of California.
We conveniently ignore such possibilities until something dramatic happens. A few people took steps to mitigate such a disaster. The was the largest commercial aircraft when the designs were being worked out. In his write-up afterward, Matthews said that such a crash would be as close as anyone is likely to come to seeing military ordnance hitting an occupied high-rise structure.
The first jet hit the North Tower from the north, and the other hit the South Tower from the south, just the trajectories that attackers would follow if the plan was to topple one building into the other. But one tower did not fall on impact and push the other over. Instead, the towers stood, and occupants were given time to carry out a remarkably cooperative evacuation, an effort that, as Rick Rescorla of Morgan Stanley said before he died, would make all America proud. Down there, the air was smoky, dark, and dusty and smelled of jet fuel; the stair treads were flowing like waterfalls with pipe leaks from above, making them so slippery that some people fell.
Even the handrails were slippery, from thousands of sweaty palms. The traffic was so heavy on the lower stories that at times it took a given person five minutes to move down a single floor.
Then word came to some in the North Tower that the other tower had collapsed. If one falls to earth, can the other be far behind? It is at such supercharged moments that frenzy is just a shout away, generating a crowd pressure that will crush the people at the front like a hydraulic ram. That fire and panic killed At the stairwell exit doors on the mezzanine level, some workers paused in disbelief at seeing the debris and dust across the plaza.
But police, firefighters, and security guards kept them moving. There were quite a few people directing, maybe two or three at certain areas.
Most of them were at exits, he told me. DiFrancesco, who in movielike fashion was caught by a fireball from the collapse and knocked down while in the concourse, was the last person to make it out from the South Tower. Seventy-three minutes earlier, when the first airliner struck the North Tower, the South Tower had approximately seven thousand people inside. One was Stanley Praimnath, a loan official with Fuji Bank.
Using the elevator, he descended to the lobby soon after hearing of a disaster at the other tower. But a security guard there told the Fuji Bank employees to get back to their offices, and they obeyed. Thousands of South Tower workers heard much the same message, from bullhorns and the public-address system: It was the other tower that had suffered the accident, so it was safest for South Tower workers to stay put. Praimnath obediently went back to his eighty-first floor office on the south side. That put him in position to get a good look at United Airlines Flight , which at A.
The entry hole was fully as wide as the wings, feet across. Amazingly, floor slabs just past the impact point were stout enough to divide the wreckage of the airplane into twelve-foot-high segments, like a mammoth bread slicer. The building rocked back two feet as a visible shock wave rippled across the south face. The columns that were still intact on either side of the entry hole, with assistance from their four-foot-wide spandrel beams, served as an arch.
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They could do so because the walls had deep reserves of strength, enough to hold the towers firm against miles-per-hour winds. The breeze was light on September 11, so nearly all this reserve strength was available to hold up the fifty-thousand-ton deadweight of the upper floors. The most destructive parts of the jetliner were the landing gear and the two big engines. Weighing more than four tons, the right-hand engine broke free from the airplane inside the building. Emerging from under his desk, Praimnath saw through the smoke and dust that tiles and vents hung from the ceiling. High piles of rubble lay across the floor.
He began clambering over the wreckage toward the stairs. At Euro Brokers, three floors above, executive vice president Brian Clark was standing near the west wall of the South Tower when the United flight crashed in. The floor bowed upward and office walls cracked. This was on the west side of the eighty-fourth floor; meanwhile, the east side of the floor had flashed into fire after fuel burst out of the right-hand wingtip.
Clark crouched, found his footing, and called out for everyone to leave.
Six men followed Clark to Stairway A, on the northwest corner of the service core. The stairs below and above this floor, at least as high as the ninety-first floor, were dark and smoky but passable. The corridors to the stairs might have been too hot and smoky to navigate; another possibility is that the warping of the tower measured at the roof, the building sagged about five inches toward the impact hole on the south face jammed some of the metal stairway doors in their metal frames.
Many phone calls from those floors mentioned locked or jammed doors. Clark insisted that they all go down anyway because the stairway was the only thing they could rely on. And he happened to be right: Stairway A was the only passable stairway out of three at this level. Five of his co-workers decided to help the pair climb to clearer air.
I have this image of heroes, making a very unfortunate decision, Clark recalled. That left Clark and Ron DiFrancesco on the eighty-first floor. They heard the noise of pounding, and a yell for help. Clark and DiFrancesco left the stairway and navigated through the rubble. A moment later, DiFrancesco headed back to the stairs, almost overcome by the smoke.
Inviting Disaster Lessons From The Edge of Technology
About fifty feet from the core of the building, Clark found Praimnath trapped in a closet-sized space, with only his upper body showing. The Fuji employee had a piece of sharp metal through his hand.
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By urging Praimnath on, and by pulling on his shoulder and arm, Clark got him free. Praimnath and Clark headed down the stairs, stopping briefly to find a phone and call in help for a security guard who was tending an injured man on the forty-fourth floor.
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