It’s all about the human factor

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In science fiction, it’s always been a bad idea to mess with the future. In reality, it can be a lifesaver and an economic boon.

Tracy Murrell’s tightly focused goal is to predict the future, and then do something to change it. She’s working on a master’s degree in that relatively obscure field of study, intriguingly called “Human Factors.”

Giving things an added twist is that Murrell, Royal Caribbean’s vice president for maritime safety, is earning her degree at an aeronautical university because that’s where it’s offered.

Sailing the oceans safely is what she’s all about. When something goes wrong, she knows where to look for the cause, and that’s the start of prevention.

“I don’t believe there’s anything that you can’t do anything about,” Murrell says. “I know there’s all sorts of statistics out there about percentage of accidents caused by human error. For me, I challenge anyone to tell me why it’s not 100 percent.”

If it’s a software glitch, somebody wrote that software. If there’s an onboard system failure, someone designed that system. It goes like that.

“So depending on how far you want to dig, you’ll get to a human error somewhere in a place where that particular situation could have been foreseen and stopped,” Murrell says.

A serpentine route brought her to Royal Caribbean, and not for the first time. Murrell was born in England and her family moved to Plano, Texas. when she was age 3. (“My accent got sucked out of me pretty quickly.”) Though 300 miles from saltwater, she and her sister reveled in vacations to Galveston and Sea World where they were fascinated by the creatures living in the seas.

While working on a bachelor’s in marine transportation at Texas A&M University – Galveston, firefighting exercises piqued her interest. Murrell earned a paramedic’s license and worked on an ambulance for a year before deciding to focus on one area: maritime safety. Between the time she earned a Coast Guard license and attained her current position with RCL in January 2017, Murrell earned an MBA and worked variously aboard seismic survey vessels, super tankers and semi-submersible oil rigs; as a navigation and safety officer for Royal Caribbean International; and in other marine safety related roles with BP and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Now, she says, “I’m basically responsible for maritime safety and compliance for RCL, for all brands of the company. So I make sure that we monitor maritime safety regulations, that we keep the vessels in compliance at all times.”

Murrell’s hand can be found in new safety elements on both Oasis and Quantum class ships, including separation of the bridge from a new and award-winning Safety Command Center to avoid distractions during an incident.

Prevention of such incidents is central to what Murrell does. And she knows that if you dig deep enough, you’ll inevitably find people behind error.

Then it’s just a matter of figuring out why they did what they did. It’s called the human factor.