Catastrophes come in all shapes and sizes, but some basic causative principles underlie most of them. Robert Bea, an engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, has studied system failures from space shuttle explosions to levee breaks during Hurricane Katrina — but as a former oil rig worker he is most familiar with drilling disasters. Bea has thus assumed a key role in analyzing the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico (Page 5). He spoke with Science News contributing editor Alexandra Witze about why the spill could have been foreseen.
You’ve looked at failures in more than 600 engineering systems. How does the Deepwater Horizo