A catastrophic failure
is a sudden and total failure of some system
System is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole....
from which recovery is impossible. Catastrophic failures often lead to cascading systems failure
A cascading failure is a failure in a system of interconnected parts in which the failure of a part can trigger the failure of successive parts.- Cascading failure in power transmission :...
The term is most commonly used for structural failures, but has often been extended to many other disciplines where total and irrecoverable loss occurs. Such failures are investigated using the methods of forensic engineering
Forensic engineering is the investigation of materials, products, structures or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property. The consequences of failure are dealt with by the law of product liability. The field also deals with...
, which aims to isolate the cause or causes of failure.
Examples of catastrophic failure of engineered structures include:
- The Tay Rail Bridge disaster of 1879, where the center half mile of the bridge was completely destroyed while a train was crossing in a storm. The bridge was badly designed and its replacement was built as a separate structure upstream of the old.
- The failure of the South Fork Dam
The South Fork Dam was located on Lake Conemaugh, an artificial body of water located near South Fork, Pennsylvania, United States. On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam failed catastrophically and 20 million tons of water from Lake Conemaugh burst through and raced 14 miles downstream, causing the...
in 1889 released 4.8 billion US gallons of water and killed over 2,200 people (popularly known as the Johnstown Flood
The Johnstown Flood occurred on May 31, 1889. It was the result of the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam situated upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA, made worse by several days of extremely heavy rainfall...
- The failure of the St. Francis Dam
The St. Francis Dam was a concrete gravity-arch dam, designed to create a reservoir as a storage point of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It was located 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, California, near the present city of Santa Clarita....
in 1928 released 12 billion US gallons of water, resulting in an official death toll of 385 people.
- The collapse of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the first incarnation of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a suspension bridge in the U.S. state of Washington that spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. It opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, and dramatically collapsed...
of 1940, where the main deck of the road bridge was totally destroyed by dynamic oscillations in a 40 mph wind.
- The De Havilland Comet disasters of 1954, later determined to be structural failures due to unanticipated metal fatigue at the corners of square windows used by the Comet 1.
- The 62 Banqiao Dam
The Banqiao Reservoir Dam is a dam on the River Ru in Zhumadian Prefecture, Henan province, China. It infamously failed in 1975, causing more casualties than any other dam failure in history, and was subsequently rebuilt....
s failure event in China in 1975, due to Typhoon Nina. Approximately 86,000 people died from flooding and another 145,000 died during subsequent disease, total of 231,000 deaths.
- The Hyatt Regency walkway collapse
The Hyatt Regency hotel walkway collapse was a collapse of an interior suspended skywalk system that occurred on July 17, 1981, in Kansas City, Missouri, United States, killing 114 people and injuring 216 others during a tea dance. At the time, it was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S...
of 1981, where a suspended walkway in a hotel lobby collapsed completely, killing many people on the structure and those below.
- The Space Shuttle Challenger
STS-51-L was the twenty-fifth flight of the American Space Shuttle program, which marked the first time an ordinary civilian, schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, had flown aboard the Space Shuttle. The mission used Space Shuttle Challenger, which lifted off from the Launch Complex 39-B on 28 January...
of 1986, in which an O-ring of the rocket booster failed, and the entire vehicle was lost.
- The fire at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which exploded in 1986 and caused substantial emissions of radioactive materials.
- The collapse of the Warsaw radio mast
The Warsaw radio mast was the world's tallest structure until its collapse on 8 August 1991. It is the second tallest land-based structure ever built, being surpassed as tallest by the Burj Khalifa, completed in 2010....
of 1991, which had up to that point held the title of world's tallest structure.
- The attack and subsequent fire at the World Trade Center
The original World Trade Center was a complex with seven buildings featuring landmark twin towers in Lower Manhattan, New York City, United States. The complex opened on April 4, 1973, and was destroyed in 2001 during the September 11 attacks. The site is currently being rebuilt with five new...
on September 11th, 2001 is believed to have weakened the floor joist
A joist, in architecture and engineering, is one of the horizontal supporting members that run from wall to wall, wall to beam, or beam to beam to support a ceiling, roof, or floor. It may be made of wood, steel, or concrete. Typically, a beam is bigger than, and is thus distinguished from, a joist...
to the point of catastrophic failure.
- The Space Shuttle Columbia
-Mission parameters:*Mass:**Orbiter Liftoff: **Orbiter Landing: **Payload: *Perigee: *Apogee: *Inclination: 39.0°*Period: 90.1 min- Insignia :...
of 2003, where damage to a wing caused at take-off resulted in total loss on re-entry.
- The total collapse of the multi-span I-35W Mississippi River Bridge on August 1, 2007
Catastrophic failure in centrifugal pumps
A catastrophic failure of a centrifugal pump
A centrifugal pump is a rotodynamic pump that uses a rotating impeller to create flow by the addition of energy to a fluid. Centrifugal pumps are commonly used to move liquids through piping...
can occur if the liquid within the pump casing is allowed to vaporize. To prevent flashing due to overheating of the fluid, a flow must be maintained through the pump to keep the liquid below saturation temperature.
If a temperature rise of 15°F is accepted in the casing - minimum flow through a centrifugal pump can be calculated as
q = PBHP / 2.95 • cp • SG (1)
- q = minimum flow rate (gpm)
- PBHP = power input (BHP)
- cp = specific heat capacity (Btu/lb °F)
- SG = specific gravity
Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a reference substance. Apparent specific gravity is the ratio of the weight of a volume of the substance to the weight of an equal volume of the reference substance. The reference substance is nearly always water for...
of the fluid
The term catastrophic failure is occasionally used in computer software to indicate an unexpected error
A crash in computing is a condition where a computer or a program, either an application or part of the operating system, ceases to function properly, often exiting after encountering errors. Often the offending program may appear to freeze or hang until a crash reporting service documents...
from which the system cannot meaningfully recover
In computing, a fatal error or fatal exception error is an error that causes a program to abort and may therefore return the user to the operating system. When this happens, data that the program was processing may be lost. A fatal error is usually distinguished from a fatal system error...
. This usually results in a screen of death. This however, is likely to be recovered by a simple pressing of the reset button, unlike most of the examples above.
- List of bridge disasters
- Seismic performance
- Structural collapse
- Structural failure
Structural failure refers to loss of the load-carrying capacity of a component or member within a structure or of the structure itself. Structural failure is initiated when the material is stressed to its strength limit, thus causing fracture or excessive deformations...
- Resonance disaster
- Risks to civilization, humans and planet Earth
Various existential risks could threaten humankind as a whole, have adverse consequences for the course of human civilization, or even cause the end of planet Earth.-Types of risks:...