Single Points of Failure

Kathy Jackson over at Cornered Cat had a reminder today about firearms safety and the consequences of complacency. She shared the tragic story of a small child seriously injured when he was able to get his hands on his father’s Glock.

Kathy writes:

It’s tempting to think that simply keeping the guns locked up will always be enough. But even responsible adults make mistakes sometimes. When there’s an unplanned failure in your lock-it-up system, the lessons you’ve taught your children can help avoid a tragedy.

I wanted to share Kathy’s post, both as a reminder that we can NEVER take safety for granted, and to talk about the larger issue of “single points of failure” and how that concept applies to our personal safety.

A “single point of failure” is very much what it sounds like. Even in systems where one has redundant backups, there may be a single item whose failure could cause the whole system to fail. Having backup computer systems wouldn’t do a business any good in a crisis, for example, if they only had one source of power. Take out that power – the single point of failure – and you could have as many backup systems as you wanted and you’d still be down.

In the story Kathy linked to, the single point of failure was the lock on the father’s bedroom door. He presumably had locks on his home’s entry door, perhaps a burglar alarm, and I’m certain he did his best to supervise his son. But that bedroom door lock was a single point of failure – if it breaks, or if he forgets just one time to lock it, then all his other precautions are for naught.

Thinking about where your single points of failure lie is a useful tool, because it can show you the places where you need more planning, more training, or more tools. If you depend on the gun in your bedroom for self-defense, what will you do if an intruder gets between you and the gun? Use a deadbolt lock on your front door? Think about how you’d respond to a burglar entering through a window. If your self-defense preparations include a TASER, consider what your fallback plan will be if you miss with your first cartridge, or if the TASER’s power pack malfunctions.

Safety precautions are vulnerable to single points of failure. Here’s an example: Your thumbprint-activated gun safe might be really nifty in an emergency…but have you practiced accessing your gun if the battery goes dead? If you forget the lock on your bedroom door, do you have another layer of security between a curious toddler and your guns? The Four Safety Rules are all about eliminating single points of failure: We check that guns are unloaded before dry-firing them, but just in case our check fails, we ALSO don’t point them at anything we’re not willing to destroy. And so on.

It’s impractical in most cases to totally eliminate all single points of failure, so this isn’t necessarily our goal. The only way to be 100% sure our guns never accidentally discharge is to unload them and lock them in a safe, then destroy the only key to that safe. But of course, a gun thusly stored isn’t very useful for much of anything. Perfect security is impossible, and so that’s not our goal. Rather, we should strive to think about where the single points of failure lie in our planning, and then either work around or them or, at least, make them conscious so we’re aware of where our vulnerabilities are.

At the end of the day, awareness is what keeps us safe.

Photo credit: stock.xchng


  1. Home run again, Tammy. Excellent. And nobody is so good, or so “expert” that they don’t need to make such backup plans or practice them.

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