Episode 40 — Fukushima Disaster With Chuck Casto – Part 1

Episode #40
Original Air Date: 08.15.2017

32 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Chuck Casto

One of the largest earthquakes in the recorded history of the world also generated a major tsunami, causing nearly 20,000 deaths. These catastrophes caused a loss of all on-site and off-site power and a release of radioactive materials from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Dr. Casto, is a nuclear safety and regulatory professional with 38 years of experience in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the commercial nuclear power industry, and the Air Force. He was a member of the Senior Executive Service at the NRC, where he last held the position of Regional Administrator, Region III.

Chuck served for 11 months as the Director for Site Operations in Japan during the Fukushima nuclear plant accident. He participated in an Organizational for Economic Development and Cooperation mission in Japan to help reestablish their regulatory body after the Fukushima accident and helped to establish criteria to restart shutdown nuclear plants in Japan.

Tune in to hear Chuck Casto’s incredible role in the recovery of the Fukushima disaster.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"Inside the reactor vessel you lose water.  It turns to steam.  Steam, non-flowing steam is not a very good cooler, and the reactor fuel begins to heat up.  The metal around the fuel fails, melts.  That metal releases hydrogen as part of the process, and that hydrogen builds up inside the building.  And as we all saw vividly, the buildings then detonated.  So you had four actually explode."

- Chuck Casto

"The first piece of the charter was to give advice to the Japanese government.  The second piece of the charter was to protect the 200,000 American citizens in Japan, and do that by giving advice to the Ambassador.  So you have basically two missions, so you want to break up your organization to support those two missions."

- Chuck Casto

"I learned that I should have made better use of the middle and senior managers in their company and in their government to get a better picture of the accident and what was going on.  So that was a lesson.  It took a few days for me to learn that lesson, that any one engineer just has a small picture of what’s going on, and you can’t put a bunch of those little pictures together and get the big picture in something as massive as this."

- Chuck Casto

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ANDY CROWE ● BILL YATES ● NICK WALKER ● CHUCK CASTO

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Every two weeks we get together and discuss what matters to you in the fast-paced and often complicated world of project management.  We hear from those in the field who are doing the stuff of project management, meeting challenges head on, recovering from failures, and enjoying the benefits of success.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are our full-time experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And Andy, once again we have in the studio someone who was involved in what really was an international crisis and a delicate and drawn-out response.

ANDY CROWE:  We do, Nick.  And the interesting thing about this, we have a lot of project managers that have worked on high-stakes projects.  This one is literally life and death.  And so it redefines my thoughts about what’s mission critical.  So it’s going to be a good cast today.

NICK WALKER:  Well, let’s meet him.  Chuck Casto is the president of the Casto Group, with expertise in nuclear safety and regulatory issues.  His experience includes 38 years with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the commercial nuclear power industry, and the U.S. Air Force.  For 11 months Chuck was the director for site operations in Japan during the Fukushima nuclear plant accident.  He participated in a mission to help reestablish that country’s regulatory body after the accident, and helped to establish criteria to restart nuclear plants there that were shut down.  In 2012 he received the Distinguished Executive Award from President Obama.  Dr. Casto, it is a privilege to have you with us here on Manage This.

CHUCK CASTO:  Good morning, gentlemen.  I’m happy to be here.

NICK WALKER:  Well, obviously there is a lot to talk about.  And we’d like to spend some time talking, not only about the Fukushima accident, the recovery, and the lessons learned, but also about taking the lead in crisis situations overall, and how to best respond to different types of disasters, big and small.  So I guess we should start off – take us back to 2011, to that devastating earthquake, the subsequent tsunami, and the resulting nuclear accident.

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, Nick, on Friday, March 11th, late in the afternoon in the Sendai area of the eastern coast of Japan, a 9.0 earthquake occurred.  The earthquake was so strong, it actually moved the earth on its axis and could be felt as far away as Antarctica.  It created three to nine large tsunami waves.  We think of a tsunami wave as a wave like at the beach, and you jump through the wave and come out the other side.  But here we’re talking about the ocean actually lifting in a tsunami and then moving towards the shoreline.  And the tsunami swept in the coast.  Between the earthquake and the tsunami, about 16,000, just over 16,000 people were swept away or lost in that initial attack on the coastline.  Small villages and towns up and down the Sendai coast were washed away.

Obviously, the U.S. military responded with the USS Reagan and along with the Japanese military and others.  If you think about it, your first responders are lost.  All your fire departments, all your police departments along the coast, they’re gone.  They’re swept away.  They’re lost.  So now you have no first responders.  So when you talk about crisis leadership, we always depend on our first responders.  Very few first responders remaining in this case.  So you have to rely on national governments, obviously, in an episode as big as this.

NICK WALKER:  So obviously this was international news.  Everybody got the word about this.

CHUCK CASTO:  That’s right.

NICK WALKER:  But tell us then about what happened, and how you really got involved.  How did this get on your radar?

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, there are several nuclear plants along that eastern coast, the Sendai region.  The one that we’re all familiar with is Fukushima Daiichi, which is a six-unit nuclear site that had several units operating, several units shut down.  It was attacked by a 45-foot tsunami wave which caused catastrophic damage to the facility.  It lost power and lost the vital cooling water that cools the reactors.

At that point, because the Japanese were dealing with the tsunami and earthquake, and because the national government really had little experience in a crisis this big in terms of the reactors, Prime Minister Kan called President Obama and asked for help, asked for nuclear expertise.  And President Obama called the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and asked to send a team to Japan.  And I was chosen as the leader of that team.  We initially responded with 16 people.  Eventually, in the embassy, between all the government agencies, there were about 150 responders.

For me, I was actually in Atlanta.  I was working in construction projects, not in operations.  This was an operational event.  I was working construction; so I couldn’t have been further away, really, from the action.  Our headquarters office in Washington was responding.  And as they searched the agency for people to lead the effort, my name popped up.  I have experience.  I’d operated reactors just like Fukushima Daiichi, and I’d worked on Capitol Hill for a U.S. senator.  I worked for the Chairman of the NRC.  So I had both the political expertise and the technical expertise, so that I think that’s the reason they chose me to go to Japan.

ANDY CROWE:  Chuck, I’ve got a question for you as I’m listening to this because you and I got to know each other not too long after that.  We began our friendship.  And as I’m thinking about this, can you explain to our listeners what happens when the cooling fluid or the cooling liquid doesn’t cool enough.  Then so what?  So it gets warm; right?

CHUCK CASTO:  Yes, and that’s it exactly.  Inside the reactor vessel you lose water.  It turns to steam.  Steam, non-flowing steam is not a very good cooler, and the reactor fuel begins to heat up.  The metal around the fuel fails, melts.  That metal releases hydrogen as part of the process, and that hydrogen builds up inside the building.  And as we all saw vividly, the buildings then detonated.  So you had four actually explode.

NICK WALKER:  At what point did you realize what you were up against?

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, it was pretty vivid when the buildings exploded.  We realized at that point, okay, that means – the only way to get that level of an explosion is that you’ve had significant fuel damage in a reactor.  So you knew that – I know I was watching on television, obviously, on Friday.  And typically in this situation you would restore power, and you would restore water.  And I kept thinking, okay, soon they’ll get power and water.  And because you can’t see what’s going on from 9,000 miles away on television, you really don’t know what’s happening on the ground in terms of the response.  And it was hoping through the day that they would be getting power back and water back.  And then obviously, when the first building exploded, we realized that didn’t happen.

ANDY CROWE:  I know that some reactors have control rods that are suspended over the fuel and that, if the power fails, they’re held up by electromagnets.  The electromagnets fail or cease working, the rods drop in, and they stop the reaction.  What happened here?  Was this an older plant design?  Did something go wrong with that?  Because it’s interesting to me that we call this an “accident” and not an “act of God” or something like that.  Where was the accident, Chuck?

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, the control rods in this reactor actually come in from the bottom, and they’re inserted by an accumulator that has pressurized water.  Which did happen.  The reaction shut down.  But much like a pot of water on a stove, you can shut the heat off, and you have decay heat.  You have heat remaining that you have to dissipate.  So if you don’t dissipate that heat in that reactor, then the clad around the fuel will fail, and potentially the fuel fail, depending on how long it is before you restore water, which took quite some time.

ANDY CROWE:  So this is Friday that you’re watching this on TV.  How quickly are you on a plane headed east?

CHUCK CASTO:  I was dispatched on Monday and then essentially landed – of course you have the International Date Line, so it’s Tuesday when I was on the ground.

NICK WALKER:  There must have been some sort of safety issues, some safety safeguards.  I guess that’s what I’m looking at.

CHUCK CASTO:  Right, right.

NICK WALKER:  And those failed?

CHUCK CASTO:  All of those were essentially washed away or had no power.

ANDY CROWE:  Wow.

BILL YATES:  That tsunami wave was what – the 45-foot wave was what really undercut everything.

CHUCK CASTO:  Was massive, just massive.  It knocked out all the safety systems.

BILL YATES:  All the backup generators.

CHUCK CASTO:  All the electrical power, all the backup – the backup generators were actually in the basement of the building.  Obviously not the best design, which was designed back in the ’50s and ’60s.  So the tsunami washed down to the basement where the diesel generators were at.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.  So, Chuck, a lot of times a project gets started through a charter, maybe through a mission statement, maybe through some contractual element.  And in this case it gets started by a phone call from a Prime Minister to a President saying, “Help.”

CHUCK CASTO:  Right, right.

ANDY CROWE:  And so that’s your charter.  That’s your mission:  help.

CHUCK CASTO:  That’s right.

ANDY CROWE:  You get on a plane.  You land in Japan on a Tuesday.  So, and you don’t know what you’re going to encounter.  So how do you, as a project manager, as a leader of an enormously mission-critical project, how do you start defining this?  How do you begin?

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, there were really two pieces to the charter. The first piece of the charter was to give advice to the Japanese government.  The second piece of the charter was to protect the 200,000 American citizens in Japan, and do that by giving advice to the Ambassador.  So you have basically two missions, so you want to break up your organization to support those two missions.  We immediately dispatched our engineers into the power company, into the regulator, into the military, the Japanese military.  And you want penetration into those organizations as deeply as you can get, to get as much information.  This was like, you know, we say it’s like trying to solve a murder without access to the crime scene.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHUCK CASTO:  You’re blind.  You have no data.  You have no information.  So you’re trying to piece together information.  Much of the information you get is wrong because there is no information.  All of the instrumentation systems were destroyed.  So you really don’t have much information at that point.  So for me, I spent much of my time as a leader, I had an assistant team leader, put them on the mission of penetrating into the organization.  I spent much of my early days with the Ambassador on the “protect the American citizens” side.  And trying to manage chaos is the biggest thing, you know, the sort of an “inverse relationship chaos curve,” I call it.  The less information you have, the more chaos there is.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHUCK CASTO:  So, and then when information comes in, then you tend to just react to it.  Good or bad, you just react.  Any data point I have, I react to it.

ANDY CROWE:  It’s like a political campaign.

CHUCK CASTO:  Yeah, right.  So to make a long story short, I think what I learned in that case as a crisis leader was I set goalposts.  And this is the best worst case.  There is no good case; right?  So they’re just worst case.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHUCK CASTO:  So you got the worst worst case and the best worst case.  And you say, okay, the best worst case is the situation doesn’t get any worse.  The worst worst case is we have more explosions and more radiation release.  So you’ve got those goalposts; right?  And then what was happening before I arrived was that the Ambassador was not familiar with nuclear power or nuclear terms or none of these disasters.  So he really struggled with what does this data that I’m getting from the Japanese – can I trust the data?  What I’m getting from the Americans, can I trust that?  What does all that mean?

So any piece of data that came in would swing his decision-making because he would just hold, you know, I’m not criticizing the Ambassador.  I’m just saying that’s what you would do.  You just say, okay, I’ve got a piece of data.  What’s that mean, right, to me?  What does that piece of data mean?  And what I found when I got there was a lot of people were widely swinging on decision-making.  So how do you settle that down?  How do you settle the chaos down; right?

So what I came up with, I’m going to establish these goalposts.  And the data points that come in, they’re either between the goalposts or they’re outside the goalposts.  Right?  If they’re between the goalposts, I don’t give these political people – they don’t understand these terms.  So I just tell them the situation remains between the goalposts.  That’s all they need to know; right?  It’s not getting worse.  It’s not getting better.  It’s right there.  And then as data comes in outside the goalpost, right, then, well, you do what I call “let it bake.”  You say, “Just let it sit there.”  I’m not going to run that up to the boss right away because I don’t really know what it means.  Until I can get…

BILL YATES:  Yeah, you don’t trust it yet.

CHUCK CASTO:  You don’t trust it.  So until you get some meaning of that data point, then you don’t want to take it up to the decision makers.  You do what I call “let it bake.”  You just sit there and let it bake and see if it gets some friends.  You know?  And if it gets friends, then you say, okay, now we start having a little trend here.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHUCK CASTO:  That this might be the actual situation.  So that’s a long story to kind of give how I try to reduce chaos without data.

BILL YATES:  Chuck, the idea of the chaos curve is very compelling.  And the frustration of not really being able to have eyes on the situation must have been just – I can’t imagine.

CHUCK CASTO:  Right.

BILL YATES:  Practically speaking, how close could you guys get?  This is 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.

CHUCK CASTO:  Right.

BILL YATES:  And how close could you actually get to the nuclear site?

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, eventually we were in the buildings.  But at the time, during the crisis, only – well, they call them the “Fukushima 50.”  There were actually 65.  But the Fukushima 50, the operators, were the only people at the site.  They were about a mile away in a sheltered facility to try to respond to the event.  So you’re far away.  And the problem is you get a lot of pictures – satellite, thermal.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHUCK CASTO:  Right?  And now that brings a whole ‘nother dimension.  So it’s even worse than what you were thinking, Bill, in terms of that now you’re getting information from sources that you’re not familiar with.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHUCK CASTO:  So you don’t know what this means.  You have this piece of information, whether it’s a thermal image.  But if you don’t have anything to compare it to, right, then you don’t know what does this mean.  I’m getting this data.  I don’t know what it means.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And correct me on these numbers, the quick research I was looking at.  The meltdown gets up to 2,300 degrees Celsius, over 4,000 Fahrenheit.

CHUCK CASTO:  Right.

BILL YATES:  The heat stamp on that, you know, what equipment do we have that actually registers?  And, I mean, everything’s going to be thrown off by that.

CHUCK CASTO:  Right.  When you look at the thermal images, everything’s white.  Everything’s – you can see there’s white where there shouldn’t be white.  I know that.  So what does that mean to me; right?  It’s there’s white above the reactor.  Why is there white above the reactor?  Meaning there’s heat above the reactor.  Why is it up there?  Right?  And so then you know, well, I have a release point.  I have heat escaping from the top of the reactor.

ANDY CROWE:  Chuck, I’m taken back to something you said a few minutes ago about getting a data point and being not quite ready to run that up the ladder yet.  And there are sort of two quotes that are dueling in my head, and one of them is Deming said, you know, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”  So that one rings true.  But then something we say at Velociteach all the time is “Two points make a line; three points make a trend.”  And so, you know, just one data point’s one data point.  It’s, you know, it could be an anomaly.  It could be a bad reading from something.

CHUCK CASTO:  That’s right.

ANDY CROWE:  It could be an overreaction.  Let me ask you a question.  As you’re there, and you’re starting to work through this, what did success look like to you?  How would you define it?

CHUCK CASTO:  No further radiation releases; right?

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.

BILL YATES:  Okay, yeah.

CHUCK CASTO:  The goal is, as you’re in that goalpost, you’re in that goalpost, and they propose – let’s say the Japanese government or the operator propose, “We want to try a different strategy.”  Well, if all our data is within the goalposts, why would we want to do, at this point, why would we want to take some other strategy unless we’re certain it’s going to move it to the best worst case?  So my philosophy was that we know they’re putting water into the reactors with fire trucks at that point.  After the loss of all the installed systems, they connected up fire trucks with pumping water from the ocean into the reactors.  So there’s water going in, and the radiation coming out of the plant has stopped.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s stable.  And for right now that’s what we want.  So before you take any other further action, you want to make sure that that action’s well thought out because you don’t want to disturb the status quo.

We did know that there was not enough water going in the reactors.  We did know that.  The challenge was, if you pushed more water into the reactors, because of breaks in the building and because of leaks highly radioactive material was headed for the ocean.  So if you push more water in, that water’s going to flow out to the ocean, and then you’re going to have a significant release of radiation out to the ocean.  The Prime Minister had decreed no releases to the ocean.  So they had to minimize the water flow to keep from overflowing the other buildings that it was leaking to and going out to the ocean.

NICK WALKER:  Wow.  Is that a common scenario…

CHUCK CASTO:  No.

NICK WALKER:  …guys, in project management, where the solution might actually make things worse?

CHUCK CASTO:  That’s right, that’s right.  In reality, we probably could have got those reactors cooled down much faster if you’d make the choice to release the radioactivity to the ocean.  Because you made that decision, you put a constraint in.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

CHUCK CASTO:  You put a constraint in.  That now is going – the action is going to last six months, which it did, until December 21st, when it finally got them, the reactors, into cold shutdown.  So you put these constraints on your project, and you know that the consequence is going to be this is going to make this project much longer.

ANDY CROWE:  Every project manager encounters some constraints.  And sometimes they’re known, and sometimes they’re assumed, and sometimes you find out at the worst possible moment.  But they’re there.  I mean, in some ways it did help at least constrain the amount of planning you had to do, I guess.  There might have been some upside to it.

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, there were several times when there were constraints put on the plant operator by the national government.  And most of those constraints that were put on actually complicated the action.

ANDY CROWE:  Wow.

CHUCK CASTO:  They made it much more challenging because, if you think about it, social justice – protecting the environment, protecting people – will overrule technical justice.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHUCK CASTO:  So, and that’s what happened in this case.  The social justice, we don’t want to release to the ocean, overruled the technical justice of the technical people knowing what the right thing to do is to increase, from a technical point of view.  So then the national government has to make a decision.  Same thing with the evacuation before they vented.  As you said, Andy, the reactor buildings, they heat up.  They’ve got all this steam in them.  You need to vent this off before it breaks the containment buildings; right?  You need to vent this off.  And the national government asked them to hold off on venting until the evacuation of the people occurred.  And that complicated, slowed down the recovery, slowed down the mitigation, and greatly complicated the action.  In fact, during that delay is when Unit 1 exploded.

BILL YATES:  Wow.  How many people were being evacuated?  Because, again, we have loss of life of 16,000 or more from the tsunami, the earthquake and then the tsunami.  So you already have compromised – you have compromised road systems.

CHUCK CASTO:  Oh, tremendously, yes.

BILL YATES:  Okay, I go out to my car to escape, and it’s underwater.  Plus there’s no road.  It’s washed out.

CHUCK CASTO:  Right, right, right.

BILL YATES:  That must have slowed things down enormously.  Plus you’ve got – what were the number of people, roughly, that were being evacuated?

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, they evacuated 90 to 100,000 people from the area.

BILL YATES:  Okay, mm-hmm.

CHUCK CASTO:  Immediately.  Immediate evacuation.  So when I went in the first time, up to the Fukushima prefecture, it’s just remarkable.  The staging area, they had commandeered a place called “J-Village,” which is the international – the women’s international soccer team practice facility.  It’s about 18 kilometers west of Fukushima Daiichi, the accident plant.  Every inch of that was filled with military vehicles and government vehicles.  And then that’s also the point where there was a no-go zone after that.  From J-Village in, 18 kilometers, no people.

So you go up, and you see just the chaos of all the people changing into protective clothing to go into the plant, to do work.  And then to ride through that area, and you see the earthquake damage, the tsunami damage.  You see villages just wiped out, gone.  Major crevices in the road.  You’d look down, and you’d see a car down maybe 100 feet into a crevice, a truck.  You’d say, what happened to that person that’s in that thing?  Actually, cars literally stuck on the road where the road opened up in front of them as they were driving.  Bridges.  Liquefaction because of the earthquake wiping out – you’d see a bridge stand there with no entry, no ramps to it, where the liquefaction wiped out.

And meanwhile, Bill, you’re trying to bring in a response to all this.  You’re trying to bring in equipment.  You’re trying to – we needed batteries very desperately, needed batteries since the emergency diesels were wiped out.  And the batteries they were trying to deliver were too heavy for helicopters, and you had to try to get those in there.  The truck drivers were getting lost in the mountains, trying to get equipment because they had to go different routes, and no cell phone coverage, so just to try to respond to the site.  And that’s why the Fukushima 50 were there for quite some time on their own.

I remember going in first time to talk to Yoshida, the site superintendent.  And he held up a bag of rice and a bottle of water, and he said, you know, “For the last seven days this is what I’ve had every day.  And I’ve got to decide how much water to put in my rice to cook it, and how much to drink.”  And this is – this is a First World country.  Right?  We’re talking about a First World nation here.  We’re not talking about, you know, a Third World nation.  This is a First World nation, you know, we couldn’t even get supplies in to the workers, to the 50–65 guys that were there.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, Chuck, in a lot of ways this resembles almost a wartime situation.  A war fighter a lot of times knows what technically he or she needs to do in order to take control of a situation.  But there’s political constraints.  There are other constraints.  Maybe there’s news cameras.  There’s things that…

CHUCK CASTO:  Absolutely.

ANDY CROWE:  …you’re not ready to do, and maybe constraints you can’t cross.  So you’ve having to operate in a really constrained environment.  I guess it was frustrating feeling like you knew a technical solution that you couldn’t implement.

CHUCK CASTO:  That’s right.  And so you have logistical constraints.  You have government constraints.  And as you said, a war fighter – this was on a war footing.  People would talk about that.  This was definitely a war footing.  If you think about it, this event was the Great San Francisco Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, and more than three Three Mile Islands, all in one place, all at the same time.

ANDY CROWE:  That’s breathtaking.

CHUCK CASTO:  If you think about it, we didn’t do so good on any of those, right, in responding to any of those.  And you have all of those happen at one time in one day, and continuing buildings exploding for days afterwards, with 90 to 100,000 people involved.  So this was a massive undertaking to try to respond to this event.

BILL YATES:  As a leader of that effort, how do you keep your team focused?  I would think, personally, I would be overwhelmed at moments by the devastation.

CHUCK CASTO:  Right.

BILL YATES:  You know, the visuals that I have in my mind as you describe what you saw.  How do I keep my – how do you keep your composure, and how do you continue to lead the team when there’s so much overwhelming devastation around you?

CHUCK CASTO:  Well, I focused on informing the White House and the Ambassador and trying not to fuel the chaos that was going on and trying to be reasoned and be calm.  There was a gentleman, Harold Denton, who was the first responder – he essentially had my job at Three Mile Island.  He was Jimmy Carter’s representative at Three Mile Island.  And I actually used him as a role model.  I thought about Harold when I was – he was a Southern gentleman, slow speaking, very calm.  He did a wonderful job at Three Mile in talking to the public and communicating.  So I used – I saw him as a role model.  I said, “I need to be a lot like Harold when I get here.”  During that flight over I was thinking about all the organization in my head, and it was – there’s a mentor.  There’s a role model that I can use.  So I used – I think I used him a lot.

Also Governor Thornburgh from Three Mile Island, he had taught me about facts.  He was a prosecutor, taught me a lot about facts, about challenging the facts; and, more importantly, challenging the fact-bringer.  And I think you were talking about that, Andy, about, you know, people bringing opinions.  And as a prosecutor – and also I would say that Ambassador Roos in Japan, he also is an attorney.  And just that logical challenging fact-bringing – what’s the fact you’re bringing me?  How do I know that it has credibility?  So you challenge the fact, and you challenge the fact-bringer.  And so I used those, I think, as role models.

I made mistakes.  There’s no doubt about that.  In our zeal to have penetration into the organization, we pushed hard to have engineer-to-engineer communications with Tokyo Electric and the Japanese government.  And what I found was that this disaster was so big that no one engineer, no group of engineers, had the overall picture of the accident.  So we got bogged down a little bit in details that we shouldn’t have been bogged down in.  And I learned that I should have made better use of the middle and senior managers in their company and in their government to get a better picture of the accident and what was going on.  So that was a lesson.  It took a few days for me to learn that lesson, that any one engineer just has a small picture of what’s going on, and you can’t put a bunch of those little pictures together and get the big picture in something as massive as this.

ANDY CROWE:  And it’s something that engineers don’t always see their picture as a small picture.  To them, it’s the only…

CHUCK CASTO:  That’s right, it’s the – that’s right

BILL YATES:  It is the picture.

CHUCK CASTO:  That’s right.  And we love engineer to engineer; right?  Scientist to scientist.  We love that.  And as a leader, though, that can really limit your view of what’s happening.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, years ago, and it wasn’t that many years ago, Google tried very hard to flatten out their enterprise.  And they tried to do away with layers of management.  And people cheered this.  They said there’s no more bureaucracy, it’ll be streamlined, and we’re going to get rid of some of these project managers and other middle management.  And what they found was it was almost impossible to get anything done.  Things got, you know, so then they started looking at it a little more sanely and saying, okay, we’re not going to be so flat anymore because middle management, project managers, all the way up to senior management, they all fill a role.  And, you know, the role hopefully, if you have your organization aligned right, hopefully the role is that you start seeing bigger and bigger pictures as you go up the chain.

I heard somebody recently going off and saying “I don’t understand what a CEO does,” said “I really don’t understand.”  And they were kind of making the point that CEOs weren’t necessary, which is again fun in pop culture to look at it that way.  But in a properly aligned organization, the CEO plays a very important function of coordinating everything and organizing everything.  And that goes all the way down the chain, you know, so that they just have progressively granular responsibilities.

Chuck, I hope you’ll have some time to stick around because we’d love to continue this conversation…

CHUCK CASTO:  Sure.

ANDY CROWE:  …and talk through a few more things, if you have time, because there’s a lot of questions that are coming to mind just as a project manager here that I’d like to dig into.

CHUCK CASTO:  Absolutely.

NICK WALKER:  Before you go, though, Chuck, I know a lot of our listeners would love to be able to connect with you somehow.  Is there a way they can do that?

CHUCK CASTO:  They can.  Literally my company is Casto Group Consulting.  I do a lot of independent safety advice and consulting for many different sectors.

NICK WALKER:  Great.  And Andy and Bill, thank you for what has been so far a fascinating conversation.  I look forward to the rest of it.

We want to remind our listeners how to earn your free PDUs just for listening to this podcast.  In fact, you’ve already earned Professional Development Units toward your recertifications.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com and select Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and just click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on September 5th for our next podcast, when we’ll be talking again with Dr. Chuck Casto.  In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.  We always love to hear from you.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

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