Cave Diving & IT

Some of you might think that the writer has officially gone mad now. What on earth does Cave Diving has to do with IT ?

When looking at surface (heh, another diving reference) not much, but on broader terms both have similarities. In order to survive in both disciplines, you have to manage risks and develop responses to situations where the risk has just been realized, a failure has just happened.

Five rules of Accident Analysis

By nature Cave Diving is extreme and dangerous sport. When entering water filled holes with limited supply of air to breath, things are bound to go wrong. Apart from space, a cave full of water is one of the most hostile environments you could enter.

Diving and Cave Diving was dear hobby of mine for a decade or so. During those years I got into some fairly hairy situations and survived to tell about it. How did I survive? By pure luck? Yes, that has probably some part, but most credit goes to training, methodical way of doing things and team work.

When Cave Diving was a young sport there were lots of accidents and sometimes even unfortunate fatalities. Over time these accidents revealed patterns, which led to investigation of those patterns. Five Rules of Accident Analysis for Cave Diving was developed, which in turn led to much safer sport.

Sixth rule of Cave Diving

On top of original five rules, I practiced stricter way of cave diving. With that came one additional rule: No solo diving, ever. You go in as a team and you come out as a team, period.

On top of basic six rules, some minor observations was made. One of those was that it is better to have just one response to a failure. That response might not be the most optimal response in every situation, but on average you will have a better probability of good outcome.

Other way of developing responses to failures is to create unique response for each failure. Multiple-response-method might work while breathing air on land where you have time and can back-track and do-over. Underwater it will decrease your chances of surviving or even kill you. Above water, it will increase the probability of other failures and will increase the time taken to solve a problem.


Let’s take one risk as an example. This risk type is not limited only to the field of cave diving, many similar risks can be also found in modern IT environments. The type of this risk is “low probability / major consequences”. Once this type of risk is realized, you should handle it correctly or there is a high likelihood that something can go seriously wrong. Since this failure occurs fairly rarely, it will most likely increase stress level. In order to resolve the issue successfully, you also have to be able to manage stress levels.

Out-of-air (OOA) and correct response

Your lungs have limited capacity and typically you notice that something is wrong with your breathing supply when you are inhaling, i.e you have just exhaled and emptied your lungs and you need more air. You are already running out of air. You don’t have much time. If at that point you have to make multiple decisions in order to survive, the prognosis isn’t very good for you. You have time to go trough maybe one decision-tree, if well-trained and can keep your cool, maybe two or three decision-trees. If you panic or loose your cool, most likely primal instincts kick-in and you go for the most obvious source of air.

So what should be the primary response in out-of-air situation (OOA)?

When cave diving with proper setup, your personal gear has redundancy, at least two pieces of critical components, sometimes more. Since you are personally carrying redundant air supply, the most obvious response to OOA for untrained cave diver would be using your personal spare supply. There is one major flaw in that thought, even though you are supposed to run check lists and test all redundant components before commencing the dive, over time you might get complacent and skip some of those check lists. Even if you are not complacent and test your gear prior descending, the test was done maybe 30 minutes ago. So there is no real evidence that your spare air supply is working right now, it should, but you can’t be sure.

If you are practicing team diving, there will be always an air source which is proven to be in working order. Which one? The one your buddy is currently breathing from. So the correct and only response to out-of-air should always be:

Yank out the regulator from your buddy’s mouth

and start breathing from it, you are almost guaranteed to get at least few breaths out of that device, it was in working order a second or two ago, it should work now as well. This will buy you more time and increase your chances of surviving astronomically.

This is also the response that a panicking diver will choose at some point, so it is good to be prepared for it. If you are properly trained cave diver, getting your regulator yanked out of your mouth should be second nature to you and should not increase your stress level too much. If your stress level increases too much, you haven’t trained enough. This also a skill set that is NOT taught for non-cave divers, one of many reasons not to enter caves with untrained divers.

What happens next? Your buddy is carrying spare air supply / regulator, attached to a bungee cord around his neck. He just basically drops his jaw to pick it up and starts breathing from it. Should it fail or malfunction, you can share the one and only currently working air supply, by buddy-breathing, taking turns and breathing from one air source. This skill is learned in every cave diving class. Once again you are both breathing and you will have more time to stabilize the situation, fix issues and test other sources of breathing gas.

Even if all the other redundant air supplies should malfunction, you are still both breathing. If you have followed other basic rules of cave diving, you should also have enough gas in one air supply for both members of the team to exit the cave safely. This only works, if you can keep your nerves and breathing rate in check. If you panic, you will breath more heavily and likelihood of survival decreases dramatically.

The only way to learn to manage stress, is to practice a skill set until it is not too stressful. Little bit of stress is actually a good thing, it will keep your senses sharp. If there is no stress at all you might get over-confident and complacent. This is reason why easy recreational dives can be actually more dangerous to highly trained cave divers, it feels too easy and you might have a temptation for cutting corners.

Practice is practice and real life is something else. That is true, you don’t really know how one reacts to stressful situation, until it actually happens in real life. But if you have correct skill set and have practiced enough, the difference is much smaller, which might be just enough to make difference between exiting the cave and staying there forever.

Call to Action:

You can apply these cave diving risk and stress management rules and techniques also in IT.

  • Scroll back to “Out-of-air (OOA) and correct response”
  • Replace Cave Diving gear with Critical IT system
  • Think of failure, which is a type of “Low Probability / High Impact”
  • Check you recovery plan for such event
  • If you have too many decisions to make while executing your plan, maybe it is time for some trimming or automation (machines don’t panic as easily as humans)
  • Practice your plan
  • Share your findings with your team, so they will respond the same way when something goes wrong
  • In case something goes wrong in real life
    • Don’t Panic as panic “kills”
    • Calm your self down and take a deep breath
    • As long as you are breathing there is hope

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s