December 1, 2011  

Ship out of luck

TO THE NAVY, for forgetting to factor in basic human behavior.

The epic plumbing failure aboard the carrier George H. W. Bush — since May, the toilets have worked only intermittently and, on at least two occasions, have failed across the entire ship at once — offers at least two lessons. First, don’t design a system that requires humans to change. People throw things down toilets that they shouldn’t, and the NAVSEA engineers who specified narrower pipes aboard the Bush should have known better. Second, telling people to “hold it” won’t work. The carrier’s leaders have failed to rig up workarounds, forcing sailors to find various ad hoc, suboptimal solutions.

The situation would be comical if were it not so expensive and unhealthy, and the reaction by brass so lacking.