Journal of Operational Risk

Swiss cheese and the PRiMA model: what can information technology learn from aviation accidents?

François Bergeon, Matthew Hensley


Aviation and information technology (IT) are technologies born in the 20th century. They sometimes follow parallel development paths that display unexpected similarities; such is the case for failures of critical IT systems, which have, on occasion, been compared to landmark aviation accidents. What if the lessons learned in aviation safety could find practical applications in the IT world? The Federal Aviation Administration uses the "Swiss cheese" model for root-cause analysis in aviation disasters. The model, developed by psychologist Dr James Reason in his study of human errors, can be used in IT to help understand the causation behind impacting events in order to better prepare for them, or possibly even prevent them, in the future. This paper introduces a predictive risk mitigation model based on the Swiss cheese theory. A predictive risk mitigation analysis (PRiMA) is designed to complement traditional risk assessment, management and mitigation techniques in order to prevent operational incidents and limit their impact, if they should occur.

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