A “catastrophic” failure is one from which recovery is impossible. Although catastrophic failure of a major system often leads to “we have to remove all this damaged stuff so we can restore operations,” don't be too hasty.

The response to catastrophic failure of major systems (or equipment) usually entails large capital expenditures, insurance claims, regulatory filings, reports to senior management, and the services of a forensic engineer. The many chefs in that particular kitchen are all handling the hot potato known as "blame."

Be careful, or your department could get burned. For example, suppose a service transformer blows up. You now have three requirements:

  • Preserve the evidence.
  • Restore power so operations can resume.
  • Contain the damage (for example, don't let transformer oil leak to the soil).
These may appear to be conflicting requirements, but following a good plan prevents conflict. Three tips:
  1. As soon as possible on that day, interview operators about what happened just before the failure. Notes don't need to polished and formal — in fact, it's better if they aren't.
  2. Use a digital camera to document conditions before, during, and after repairs/cleanup. Photograph anything even remotely questionable. You cannot take too many photos.
  3. Save samples of trash or spill cleanup until investigations are complete and claims are paid. For example, store some of the collected oil in a drum reserved for this incident.