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Hazard Analysis Tool Adapted to Analyze Coast Guard Finances

Friday, August 1, 2014

For non-engineers, the phrase “System Theoretic Process Analysis” (STPA) might seem a bit esoteric. Although textbooks have been written about STPA, simply put, it is a technique that safety analysts use to identify hazards and risks in a complex system.

SafetyHAT, a Volpe software tool that is free for public download, was designed to help safety experts apply and streamline STPA concepts within a transportation system. U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Lieutenant Commander Scott Peterein, a system design and management fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently reported that he was able to adapt SafetyHAT to assess the Coast Guard’s financial management.

Assessing a New System

As the 2013 budget coordinator for the Coast Guard responsible for the agency’s $10 billion budget, Peterein was in an apt position last year when he decided to use SafetyHAT to analyze the Coast Guard’s new financial management system as part of his MIT thesis.

Procuring goods and services is one of the major slices of the Coast Guard’s budget that allows the agency to upgrade equipment and continue to monitor U.S. marine zones. Peterein wondered what challenges the new financial management system would create for operational procurement.

“How user-friendly will the new system be?” Peterein said. “How will it help USCG financial staff do their jobs more efficiently? And, how can the staff identify causal factors that create challenges and mitigate those challenges?”

Flexibility in SafetyHAT

Peterein created a generic procurement transaction that meshed with the Coast Guard’s new financial management system. Because users can adapt SafetyHAT to fit the issue or system they are analyzing, Peterein changed the transportation-specific guidewords to guidewords specific to the Coast Guard's financial management system.

He entered the key elements of a flow chart of a typical procurement and used SPTA concepts within SafetyHAT to reveal 205 causal factors for hazards. Peterein explained that hazards might include commitments that are not in line with Coast Guard financial policy, or commitments that go beyond funding limitations, while causal factors might include excessive workload or lack of training. 

Using Peterein’s Analysis

SPTA and system dynamics modeling are ultimately about finding the root causes of problems in a complex system where it may be difficult for managers to have an eagle-eye view of how the system is working.

“What is a system? How does it work? What is the intent of that system?” Peterein said. “I took some of this systems theory and applied it to the Coast Guard’s challenge.” 

The Coast Guard will use Peterein’s research to inform how it implements its new financial management system and smooth out bumps in the procurement process.

This is an image of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Scott Peterein used SafetyHAT to analyze the Coast Guard’s new financial management system as part of his MIT thesis.