Can Dominoes Topple a Building? (Video Included)

Posted on March 09, 2015
Written by David Albrice

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

They call it a “domino show” — that long row of dominoes toppling over one another in a cascading wave. It is quite thrilling to watch as the first domino sets off a chain reaction. The key to a successful cascade effect is that each domino is carefully placed a certain distance apart so that there is enough physics to push the next one over.

A few weeks ago I blogged that ignorance and apathy are often the very first dominoes in a chain leading to failure of assets on buildings (or pieces of equipment). These human traits are therefore “upstream” of the failure and failure is “downstream” of the cascading effect.

Here is my theory on the sequence…

Domino 1 – Ignorance and/or Apathy

This is often the very first domino as it is the sad foundation for a lack of action of any kind. It is this very inaction that serves as the catalyst for what is about to come…

Domino 2 – Lack of Vision/Strategy

If we are ignorant and/or apathetic, we are not aware of the need for (or care about) having a plan. We simply do nothing. We sit back and wait for the thundering crash of the last domino to fall over before we sit up and take notice. Our 1st domino has just knocked our 2nd second domino.

Domino 3 – Insufficient Data & Information

Without a strategy, we do not collect any data about our building, or we collect the wrong data or insufficient data. We do not even know what data to collect. We are essentially operating in the dark. For example: We do not know the age of the roof on our building. We do not know what type of roof we have. Down goes our 3rd domino.

Domino 4 – Lack of Understanding

Our 4th domino topples over because we have no data upon which to generate knowledge and deeper understanding about our building.

Domino 5 – No Sense of Priorities

Without knowledge we cannot establish meaningful priorities. Everything is equally important (or unimportant) without any sense of relative urgency. We simply react rather than act. Domino 5 topples into domino 6.

Domino 6 – Inadequate Budget

Since we are clueless about priorities, how can we be expected to establish an appropriate budget for our building. We do not have the information to develop a compelling business case to support the amount of money we need to preserve our investment.

A cool video…

Domino 7 – Deferred Maintenance

Without adequate funds, we cannot carry out all the necessary and sufficient maintenance on our assets. Deferred maintenance is inevitable. Down go dominoes 6 and 7, reeling into domino 8. Yikes!

Domino 8 – Inadequate Recordkeeping

Deferred maintenance raises the amount of paperwork that is necessary to understand the changing behaviour of our assets. We need to keep track of what did not get done and its impact on shortening the life of our assets. Since we don’t keep records, we have no power to avert what is about to happen next…. Darn!

Domino 9 – Asset Failure

We are taken by surprise. Our asset fails and leaks into our building causing damage, or something stops working, or somebody gets injured.

But it is not over yet. We move on with the next domino show.

Dominos 9, 10, 11…. Disbelief, Anger, Frustration, Finger Pointing… (In another blog post we looked at heated decision-making on expensive capital projects)

There are a number of good tools and techniques for avoiding (or, at the very least controlling) these unfortunate domino shows. These will be discussed in another blog post. Please stay tuned.

Have you had to reset the dominoes in a chain leading to asset failure? Are there other significant dominos in the chain that are missed here? Would you re-order any of these dominos?

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David Albrice

David Albrice

David is a certified professional reserve analyst, and a specialist in building maintenance and planning.

  • Do you think that we are making progress in the Wood Framing Construction arena, or is this the real Dominos effect you are illustrating here?

    • David Albrice

      The blog post suggests that in the absence of sufficient data/information (Domino #3), we may not be able to detect what is happening with our building (Domino #4) and… after further dominoes, we will eventually move from Potential Failure to Functional Failure (Domino #8). Whether the root cause of Potential Failure is traced back to poor design, poor installation, poor maintenance, or a combination thereof, is the matter of another blog post. In the weeks ahead we will be publishing a post titled “What’s hiding in my building?” and that will hopefully provide another layer to this multi-faceted story. Thanks for your contribution to the dialogue.

  • My suggestion is that we build to FAIL, soon and FAIL often. If this is acceptable then what can we say that will create any change. I guarantee that no-one like or does Maintenance, buildings FAIL for that reason alone, so why do we make it so easy to FAIL regardless of what # we are at.

    • David Albrice

      Hello ErgoDesk. While I agree that some people in the industry are not giving due consideration to the long-term best interests of buildings, there are others who are working hard at responsible stewarship and raising consumer confidence. A lot has happened to advance consumer protection but there is still much room for improvement. We live in a learning society and education of industry, consumers, authorities having jurisdiction and other stakeholders must continue. Thank you.

      • Yes small changes are in the embryo stages but real change is still not showing any wings, yet.