What Titanic and Britannic Can Teach Us About School Safety

We can learn a lot about school safety from studying the Titanic and its sister the Britannic.  The rumble is persistent – and at times even deafening – as the public seeks to protect school children via impenetrable doors, bullet-proof glass, cameras and armed guards.  While this structural-functional perspective isn’t wrong, it is only one perspective.  Let’s look at some facts from the Titanic and its sister ship Britannic.  Both ships sank, but Britannic took far fewer souls with her to the ocean’s floor.  Why?


  1. Exceeded all safety laws at time of its launch.
  2. Designed for the probable hazards of the time which were frontal collision with another ship or object or being t-boned by another ship.
  3. Struck iceberg and sank April 14, 1912 in 2 hours 40 minutes.
  4. 1514 people died & 710 people saved.

Britannic (built after Titanic and designed to be safer than Titanic)

  1. Exceeded all safety laws at the time of its launch.
  2. Designed for the probable hazards of the time which were frontal collision with another ship or object, being t-boned by another ship or side-swiping an iceberg.
  3. Struck a mine and sank on November 21, 1916 in 55 minutes.
  4. 30 people died & 1036 people saved.

What was the difference?

Physical modifications with Britannic

    • Increase the number of watertight compartments.
    • Increase the height and stiffen the transverse watertight bulkheads.
    • Add an inner skin to the hull area by boilers and engines.

Procedural changes with Britannic

    • Crew was trained in carrying out an evacuation.
    • Officers were aware of how many people they could safely put in a lifeboat.
    • Educated passengers with safety drill including general alarm.

Britannic was built to endure more damage than Titanic.  Yet, it sank 75% faster than Titanic and with just 2% of the loss of life of its elder sister.  Why didn’t more people perish on the Britannic?  There were many steps taken in addition to increased physical safety modifications.  Those steps included training the crew and practicing on lowering the lifeboats, the ship had clearly marked exit routes, a general alarm was in place and drills were conducted.

We can, and should, make the physical school environments safe.  Yet, we must avoid that quest as our sole initiative in school safety.  We will never be able to plan for every contingency.  As much as it saddens me to write this, a maniac could run a car across a playground with children or perhaps hijack a filled bus.  How long will it be before a civilian acquires a drone and uses it to attack a public place?  The moment we convince ourselves that we have countered every possibility – we will we be proven wrong.  Remember that school safety is a three-legged stool:  physical environment, drills and school connectedness.