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A Titanic history lesson for today

What can the RMS Titanic Disaster teach us about our modern lives

RMS Titanic; It’s a name most of us have heard of at some point, and whilst many will know the broad outline of the story, some of the details can be easily forgotten. Worryingly, so can some of the lessons too, and I firmly believe these lessons have something to teach us today.


A Brief History of a Titanic Tragedy

If you’re not too familiar with the story then read on;  On the 10th April 1912, 106 years ago the RMS set sail from Southampton, UK on her maiden voyage to New York, USA.  However on the 14th April the 46,328 tonne steamer collided with an iceberg.

2,228 People were onboard that night, when finally on the 15th April at 2:20am 1,523 men, women and children lost their lives as the RMS Titanic slipped below the waves. Just 705 people survived.

The RMS Titanic had been hailed as the crowning achieving of man’s dominance over nature.  No ship as big or lavish had been built before.  She was described as a ‘floating palace’ and she contained some of the world’s wealthiest individuals, many of whom perished that night, along with some of the worlds poorest.  Nature and destiny have no interest in the size of your bank balance.


What are the lessons?

There are many lessons that the Titanic story has to offer, both practical and philosophical.


Lesson 1; Training and Awareness are important

Much is made up of the fact that many of the lifeboats left the ship only half full (as many as 300 additional people could have been saved had each lifeboat left the Titanic carrying is full capacity of passengers).  The fact of the matter was that the crew weren’t trained on how to use the davits that supported the lifeboats.  They also did not all follow the same rule.  Some proclaimed “Women and children first!” whilst others shouted “Women and children only!” Why? Because the crew hadn’t been trained.


Lesson for today; When did you last train your staff on emergency procedures? Evacuation plans? Data breach processes? Cyber attacks? When do you think it is a good time to train them? When the boat is sinking or before?


Lesson 2; Understand the real risks

When the RMS Titanic was built she was said to be ‘Practically unsinkable’, because she was designed with watertight compartments, and had more lifeboats than the regulations at the time required (even though it wasn’t enough for everyone on board).  Every aspect of modern engineering had been brought into play to make her as safe as possible.


Lesson for today; We place our faith in the developers and designers of the software and systems we use. We trust them implicitly. The Titanic’s watertight compartments were designed so that the first four compartments could flood should she ever hit something, and she would still remain afloat. However, when she hit the iceberg six compartments were breached.  The systems we use daily are

developed by the same minds who never considered a ‘glancing blow’ by an iceberg could sink a ship.  We need to get better at risk assessments.


Lesson 3; Don’t sacrifice security for commercial gain

The RMS Titanic received seven warnings of ice in the region throughout the day. Some of these made their way to the bridge. Some of these didn’t reach the Captain, so he wasn’t aware.  But why? Because the priority of the Marconi radio operators wasn’t on safety; it was on sending and receiving messages for the passengers. Commercial imperatives were put before safety.


Lesson for today; How many times do we hear AFTER a Data breach that “Security is of primary importance to us!”? But is that true? With the volume of breaches we see, I very much doubt it.  Most organisations are prioritising commercial objectives over security and they are placing us at risk, and that could lead us all to disaster.


Are you a ‘customer centric’ company? If so, then are you placing security higher on the agenda than the profits of the business? Are commercial imperatives taking precedence over the safety and security of your customers? A good way to evaluate this is to ask what percentage of your budget have you allocated to cyber security? Or business continuity? Not IT… that’s different. What have you spent to ensure Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability of your services?


Conclusion; History has much to teach us.

These are just a few of the lessons the RMS Titanic has to teach us. I could go on and talk about the heroic actions of many on board the Titanic, and also the crisis management skills shown by the Captain of the Carpathia, Arthur Ronson, who came to rescue the 705 survivors.  But I will leave it there for now.

However, I will finish by saying that the RMS Titanic story has many parallels with our modern life, and here are just 3;


  • We became complacent in our assessment of risk
  • We followed regulations and rules to the detriment of individual lives
  • We thought technology could protect us from anything


Perhaps you can think of many more? But my question to you is, are we learning these lessons? Or is history repeating itself? And if it is, then which organisations will be the modern equivalent of the RMS Titanic?