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Interaction Between Safety Culture and Degraded Modes: A Survey of National Infrastructures for Air Traffic Management

NCJ Number
Risk Management Volume: 11 Issue: 3-4 Dated: July/October 2009 Pages: 241-284
Chris Johnson; Barry Kirwan; Tony Licu
Date Published
October 2009
44 pages
This paper reports on the initial findings of a study that analyzed the interaction between safety culture and degraded modes of operation in European Air Traffic Management (ATM).
Degraded modes of operation occur when operators have difficulty in maintaining levels of service because key elements of their infrastructure have failed. As used in this paper, "safety culture" refers to established patterns of how personnel view and perform their security tasks. A safety culture can exhibit a high degree of tolerance for degraded infrastructures that compromise effective security practices. Recent initiatives in ATM, including the European Safety Program and its predecessor, the Strategic Safety Action Plan, have recognized that degraded modes of operation had a significant influence on security breaches. By focusing on degraded modes, the study of European ATM has shown that the relationships between safety culture and operational safety are direct, immediate, and complex. For security professionals who must model a security system's reliability, this paper cites a variety of practical reasons why primary, secondary, and fallback applications in degraded security infrastructures may not be sufficient to provide the needed security. For safety managers and regulators, there are many lessons that can be learned from detailed analyses of safety cultures that have incorporated tolerance toward degraded security modes in air traffic operations. Although it may be easier to adapt and compromise security operations in the context of a degraded infrastructure, rather than make corrections to the system, it ultimately creates the context for significant security breaches. When the analysis of security systems shows that degrading has occurred, the study recommends that provisions allow the halting or reduction of flight services until the necessary upgrades can be made. Attempts to sustain traffic flow under degraded security systems can only increase risk levels. 8 figures and 10 references


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