Monday, February 4, 2013

In the News: Keeping the Superbowl's Lights on with FMEA

What caused the lights to go out during the Superbowl this year?  I'm sure lots of work will go into investigating the root causes, as it should.  But could it have been prevented?

There is a management tool called FMEA, which stands for Failure Mode Effects Analysis.  It's a method used to identify, analyze, and prevent such failures.  And despite the somewhat intimidating name, it's a relatively simple tool to use.  Basically, you try to figure out all the ways something can fail and then come up with ways to prevent or mitigate the failures.  The something can be anything... a product, service, system, or process.  For each "failure mode", you identify the potential causes, along with the impact severity on the customer, hence the term "effects analysis".  This helps ensure that attention is spent on the areas most likely to cause the serious problems. 

A formal FMEA may have revealed potential problems in the Superdome's power supply, lighting units, or maintenance procedures, which all could have been remedied.  In the big scheme of things, nobody was hurt and no lives were lost.  But it did delay a live TV broadcast for over 30 minutes, which seemed to change the momentum and course of the game.  It's all about reducing risk.   

So the next time you need something to go off without a hitch, consider performing an FMEA.  For more information on using this type of tool, check out this ASQ article on FMEA.


  1. I think Carnival Cruise Lines could also benefit from FMEA

  2. Totally agree, Mumbels. It could have helped them identify better preventative strategies for the greatest mechanical risks. Even more importantly, FMEA could have helped them develop a better response strategy for dealing with a situation like this. Part of risk management, is being prepared to handle crisis situations when they occur.

  3. People usually do not think or care about prevention, they are always saying to me when we write their procedures 'oh no need to think about this it never happened' and i say 'what if it happens?'. It is only when something goes wrong that then they say:'we should have thought of it'. Too late then. For those who learn out of it, then good else they continue in fire fighting situations.

  4. Don't forget that only half the lights went out which indicates to me that there was some level of risk reduction in place. The stadium was apparently fed from two different sources which kept half the lights on!