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Peacetime vs. Wartime Accidents

Peacetime vs. Wartime Accidents
Director of Army Safety and Commanding General
U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
Statistician, Operations Research and Systems Analysis
U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
Fort Rucker, Ala.

Our Army is quickly transitioning to a predominantly peacetime force, and for a generation of younger Soldiers, it will be their first opportunity to spend extended time at home with family and friends. There has been some concern among leadership and within the safety community that this transition could lead to an increase in accidental fatalities. As the repository for Army accident data going back to 1972, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center recently studied the question of peacetime versus wartime accidents, and the results were revealing.

To start the analysis, data were consolidated from two distinct time periods: Sept. 11, 1991, to Sept. 10, 2001 (relative “peacetime”), and Sept. 11, 2001, to Sept. 10, 2012 (“wartime”), with both periods comprising exactly 3,599 days each. USACR/Safety Center statisticians grouped accidents by which month they occurred for each time period and ran appropriate analyses to check for significance and proportionality between the measured variables. (Editor’s note: The accident information was retrieved from the Army Safety Management Information System on Nov. 8, 2012.)

Off duty
Analysis of off-duty private motor vehicle and personnel injury-other mishaps indicated no statistical significance in the number of accidents and fatalities between the peacetime and wartime periods. There were slightly more off-duty PI-O accidents and fatalities during peacetime than wartime, but numbers were small. Conversely, there were only slightly more off-duty POV accidents and fatalities during wartime than peacetime, but again, numbers remained statistically insignificant for testing methodologies.

On duty: Class A ground accidents
Unsurprisingly, significantly more Class A ground accidents and fatalities occurred on duty during wartime than peacetime: 812 Class A accidents and 637 fatalities versus 474 Class A accidents and 405 fatalities. This finding was consistent for Army combat vehicle, Army motor vehicle and fire/explosives Class A accidents and fatalities. Additionally, more Class A property damage accidents were reported during wartime, but the difference in personnel injury-other fatalities was not statistically significant between the two periods.

A preponderance of Class A AMV accidents and fatalities during wartime were attributed to vehicle rollovers, with a margin of 78.6 percent versus 58.1 for peacetime. While specific factors leading to this increase were not studied, issues with equipment (particularly up-armoring) and training were widely documented during the early and middle years of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Fortunately, those trends have reversed in recent years through quick materiel fixes and aggressive improvements in driver training.

Similar to on-duty ground accidents, more Class A aviation accidents and fatalities occurred during wartime than peacetime: 245 Class A accidents and 219 fatalities versus 152 Class A accidents and 135 fatalities. (These numbers do not reflect UAS accidents, which were not considered during this assessment.) A couple of notable differences in primary events leading to these accidents were revealed during analysis, as explained below.

• Fuel starvation occurred twice as often during peacetime than wartime (10 occurrences versus five). Four of the wartime incidents occurred CONUS, one occurred in Iraq, and only one was attributed to improper fuel management. The Iraq incident resulted from the crew failing to place fuel pump switches in the proper position; although they conducted proper fuel management, the engines failed as predicted by their fuel burn rate calculations after the single tank they were drawing from emptied (the crew incorrectly assumed the aircraft was drawing fuel from multiple tanks). None of the fuel starvation accidents during peacetime were a result of fuel management procedures; while some were due to human error, most resulted from materiel failure.

• There were twice as many engine overtorque/overload events during peacetime than wartime (eight versus four). Additionally, the same number of multiple-aircraft events occurred during both periods (six).

Other than the cases noted above, there were no significant differences in the types of aviation accidents occurring during either peacetime or wartime.

While the number of accidents is fewer, the types of accidents that occur during peacetime are similar to wartime accidents. This finding might seem counterintuitive, but in retrospect it is not unexpected. The Army has espoused the doctrine of “train how you fight” for years. Our findings indicate that, for the most part, accidents that occur in war are similar to accidents that occur in training. Also, off-duty accidents during both peacetime and wartime are nearly identical in number and type. Therefore, should historical precedents hold, we can expect on-duty accidents to decline while off-duty accidents remain roughly the same after the war in Afghanistan draws to an end.

While this might not seem like an exciting conclusion, it does quash a couple of pervasive myths: first, that accidents are inevitable in wartime; and second, that off-duty accidents will inevitably increase after combat. Simply taking “inevitable” out of the conversation is a victory in itself, but we did not do it without turning the tide of history. Accidents almost always rose during and after past conflicts, but this Army — today’s Army — reduced fatal accidents in the midst of the combat cycle. That is truly remarkable, and it should be celebrated as a legacy for the future.

Although it is difficult to quantify “why,” there is absolutely no question the change occurred in the years after top leadership started focusing on engagement in safety. The initial push began in 2003, and since then, strong, engaged leaders who enforce standards and foster a proactive safety culture, assisted by Soldiers who buy in to safety, have made this monumental shift happen. We reached a historic low in accidental fatalities in fiscal 2013, and we are on track to maintain or surpass that this fiscal year. By continuing to do what we know works, we will remain on this downward trajectory. In peace or at war, there are no better goals than saving Soldiers’ lives and preserving combat readiness.

For Army Aviation to maintain readiness, live up to our obligations to ground commanders and sustain the sacred trust earned in battle, we must maintain and improve our momentum in safety and risk reduction, especially during these times of shrinking resources. It is my fervent wish to better assist aviation leaders in achieving that goal by expanding this “first look” at peacetime versus wartime accidental losses and carefully studying further with our Aviation Enterprise partners.

  • 1 May 2014
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 9987
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