What is the “Eastland Phenomena”?
by Dave Lochbaum (AllThingsNuclear) The sinking of the Titanic on her maiden voyage has been immortalized in countless books, articles, movies, and documentaries. Billions of people across the globe know about the luxury liner’s collision with an iceberg in the north Atlantic on April 14, 1912, on her way to New York City with the ensuing loss of 829 passengers and 694 crew members. The ship’s band playing while passengers gathered on deck to board lifeboats and the radio operator staying on duty tapping out SOS distress messages are legends. While the Titanic’s tragic encounter with an iceberg is widely known, her second sinking is virtually unknown.
Shortly after 7:00 am on the morning of Saturday, July 24, 1915, the gang planks on the steamship Eastland (Figure 2) were taken in after 2,501 passengers had boarded in Chicago for a day’s excursion across Lake Michgan to St. Joseph. With the Eastland still tied to the wharf on the south side of the Chicago River between LaSalle and Clark streets, she capsized. A total of 841 passengers—more than died when the Titanic sank in mid-ocean—and 3 crew members perished. Twenty-two entire families perished.
The Eastland can be considered the Titanic’s second sinking because had the Titanic not sunk, the Eastland very likely would not have capsized. Additional lifeboats, rafts, and davits installed to comply with the new Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) laws in response to the Titanic disaster caused the Eastland to become more susceptible to capsizing. The added weight to the steamship’s upper decks reduced her ability to right herself in response to a list, or lean, to one side or the other.
On the morning of the disaster, the Eastland listed about 10 degrees towards the wharf as boarding passengers collected on that side of the steamship to communicate with friends yet to board. The crew corrected the list by admitting water to the ballast tanks on the steamship’s other side. As more passengers boarded, their more uniform distribution on the steamship caused her to list about ten degrees away from the wharf. The crew attempted to correct this list by reallocating water among the ballast tanks, but small-diameter piping limited how fast water could be transferred between tanks. The list increased until the Eastland rolled over onto her side. Figure 3 captured rescuers assisting survivors off the capsized vessel.
There are important lessons to be learned from both tragedies. The Titanic put to sea with more persons on board than could be accommodated in her lifeboats. If the ship sank, this shortfall meant that some would have to go down with her. To rectify that safety problem, the Eastland was retrofitted with lifeboat capacity for all persons on board. But fixing safety in one area made Eastland less safe in another.
The “Eastland phenomena” has also occurred at nuclear power plants. Well-intentioned efforts to enhance safety levels have unintentionally reduced safety levels. Two examples illustrate such outcomes. One involves the emergency core cooling systems (ECCS) for boiling water reactors (BWRs) and the other involves the ECCS for pressurized water reactors (PWRs)