Safety Meets Big Data

Since inception, Southwest has always been proudly People-first. For our Employees, this means working the Southwest Way—championing Safety and Reliability, extending friendly Customer Service, and offering low fares to our Customers.

Our Safety Management System (SMS) plays a vital role in our work, allowing us to reduce risk in our entire operation—our People, our equipment, and our airport facilities—by giving Employees multiple ways to report potential hazards and monitor Safety data generated across the Company.

Minimizing Risk with Big Data
“SMS is based on the idea that it’s impossible to remove all risk from our operation: we strive to lower our risk. To do that we have to measure it, and that takes data,” says Don Carter, Southwest Manager Safety Information Management System (SIMS) Analysis and SMS.

“From a big data standpoint, the important thing is not just any individual piece of data, it’s the ability to tie them together and draw connections between them,” Don says. “That’s where the real value comes in.” Since everyone at Southwest is responsible for Safety & Security, all Employees are empowered under our new SMS to spot potential hazards and are provided with several ways to report them.

Launching the SMS
The SMS was accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration in November 2017, more than four months ahead of deadline. Training Southwest’s workforce in the new SMS was a big job, but our People rose to the challenge. During the SMS launch, we used multiple communication channels to help Employees understand their role in the new system. In addition to communication and more than 20,000 hours of SMS training provided across the Company, we gave all operational Employees a Safety card that describes procedures for reporting Safety concerns, and these are worn with their badges. “Part of the SMS process is communicating regularly with our Employees, and we want our Employees to communicate regularly about Safety-related items.”

All Southwest operational departments worked together to create a single, integrated SMS for the entire Company. “In the end we wound up with a more cohesive SMS than we might have otherwise,” explains Don. “Southwest has always been collaborative and Team focused, so we developed our SMS together from the ground up. We couldn’t have done it without Teamwork, our Warrior Spirit, and everyone helping each other.”

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