Alion’s MOTISS – IBA: the Science of Survivability

By Joseph Keefe

An Improved Risk and Safety Assessment Process for the offshore oil & gas industry – and just in time.

Alion’s Measure of Total Integrated System Survivability (MOTISS) has been around a long time. Having previously earned its stripes primarily for naval applications, Alion began to market the service to the offshore oil & gas industry in the messy wake of the Macondo disaster. That event brought to the forefront, more than ever, the need to prepare for similar occurrences in the future and more importantly, increase industry’s ability to conduct analysis. Today, a version called MOTISS-IBA (Integrated Barrier Analysis) brings the same comprehensive power of MOTISS to the offshore oil industry that previously was only available to the world’s Navies.
According to Bill Cowardin, Assistant Vice President & Director of Operations at Alion Offshore, industry knows that it has to be innovative in making sure that offshore exploration and production activities are carried out in the lowest risk manner possible.  He explains, “At a recent IADC Conference, one of the oil majors noted that ‘never events’ happen and that when one occurs, it affects the entire industry’s license to operate. As the oil and gas industry pushes into harsher, more challenging regions such as ultra deepwater and the Arctic and employs increasingly complex technologies, it is natural that companies will want to perform (and society will demand) increased certainty of safety and risk management. To assess a complex system effectively requires an integrated analysis that considers all types of barriers: technical, procedural, and operational, acting in concert.  This is what IBA is all about.” But, what is MOTISS – IBA?

MOTISS Defined
In the U.S. Navy, damage control is everything. The Navy asks – are you vulnerable? And, it asks, can you recover? The offshore oil & gas industry, more than ever, needs to know the same thing. MOTISS integrates blast effects and recovery analysis within a single package to assist in survivability design, design evaluation, requirements assessment and resource allocation. Grounded in Alion’s years of survivability engineering experience, MOTISS answers the need for a rapid and effective evaluation tool. More simply stated; MOTISS-IBA is an integrated safety assessment solution designed for the offshore industry to identify, evaluate and then control potential hazards.
Unlike Advanced Finite Element Analyses (FEA) or Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) whole ship analyses, which are collectively expensive, both in analysis time and money, and often only provide the structural response of the vessel to a single “worse case” threat detonation point, MOTISS lets the user investigate and compare the effectiveness of two or more separate survivability enhancement design options and determine which provides the best “bang for the buck.” The user can also manipulate the design, moving system components or plate armor (thickness) to find design changes which have minimal cost or no cost, but which enhance the total survivability of the structure. 
MOTISS is both a process and a program. It is a process by which a system of systems’ (such as a naval or commercial ship, a building or an oil rig) overall survivability is assessed probabilistically in the event of one or more threats. Using first principle physics coupled with empirical data and tests, MOTISS provides a solution to an event thousands of times, with each test randomly varying the threat parameters and hit location, in order to capture the chaotic nature of the random unknowns. This provides the ability to determine probabilistically, what would, will, or did happen in a similar real world threat event. The user or client can then locate and rank weaknesses quickly in order to allow for corrective action before those weaknesses are exploited in a real world scenario.
From their experience in helping the U.S. and South Korean Navies improve vessel survivability, Alion eventually made the leap to transfer that data analysis, technology (and approach) to the offshore world. Cowardin explains, “Following the explosion and loss of the Deepwater Horizon, I started thinking ‘there must be a better way to validate the safety of offshore drilling.’ I started thinking that the complex systems of systems analysis of total ship survivability, as performed for naval ships, might offer the solution. This led Alion to partner with an international drilling company to assess one of its in-service rigs to see how the tools and methodologies used in the naval industry could benefit the offshore industry.”

The Price of Failure
The price of failure in the offshore world is quite high. The South Korean government, for example, knows this well. Alion’s Cowardin told MarineNews in May, “Today, the South Korean Navy does not build a (combat or auxiliary) ship that does not involve Alion basic and detail design input.” But, Alion also challenges the oil and gas sector, asking: “What’s the price of your license to operate?” That’s because, while using MOTISS-IBA analysis tools might not be the least expensive line item in your CAPEX budget, its utility in the long run might be the smartest option for those looking to mitigate risk, eliminate unnecessary vulnerabilities and yes – demonstrate to the regulatory community that your rig is as safe as it can possibly be. The alternative, as shown in Table 1, can be even more costly.

Decision Support/Risk Analysis
A catastrophic incident, such as an explosion, on an offshore oil asset can have serious consequences -- from oil rig or platform damage to system failures that could interfere with initiating system recoverability or shutting down critical systems. Having greater capabilities to predict such incidents, before they happen, can help immensely. Unlike most individual assessments, MOTISS-IBA accounts for system, structural and physical effects. By combining multiple assessment models and tools into a single, standardized solution, MOTISS-IBA offers a faster, more efficient and cost-effective approach to identifying risks.
MOTISS-IBA plays an essential role in improving safety – for personnel, equipment and the environment – by helping ensure compliance with regulations. MOTISS-IBA provides quantifiable, verifiable results to demonstrate a rig’s safe operation. And, results can be reused for multiple analyses, giving accurate data and cost savings over the lifetime of a particular rig.

Pilot Study & Real Life Analysis
In 2011, Alion Offshore, in a cooperative arrangement with an international drilling contractor, initiated a “Pilot Study” to show how technology used in other maritime industries could be applied to provide continuous improvement of safety and risk reduction in the offshore industry. The objectives of that study were grounded in demonstrating that a rig can be effectively modeled in MOTISS-IBA to support a myriad of analyses, including Ship Collisions (OSV Impact), Dropped Objects (Load Fall From Crane or within Derrick) and Fire and Blast (Oil / Gas Release with Ignition / Detonation on Drill Floor and Beneath Rig).
Continuing that thread, Bill Cowardin also talked about another, more recent project. “We recently finished an IBA analysis for a major drilling contractor and they were pleased with the methodology and the structure of the final deliverable which they found to be understandable and of appropriate detail to convey results but not so complex as to be automatically consigned to a shelf. The initial analysis resulted in some structural modifications that were incorporated before start of construction and resulted in increasing the safety of the accommodations spaces. As a result of the pilot study, our partner was able to enhance safety of operations by implementing some no cost procedural changes to address findings as well as validate changes in the emergency response plans that had recently been implemented aboard the rig.”
Also according to Cowardin, several other drillers are currently discussing new construction projects, and several oil companies are looking at applications to in service rigs. Two major shipyards engaged in rig construction are also in discussion about how IBA-based analysis might help them bring better products to their customers. Cowardin adds, “That all aligns with what our pilot study partner stated when they said that IBA offers ‘faster, cheaper, and better’ risk and safety analysis.”

The Price of your License to Operate
In today’s offshore environment, operating in a ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish’ manner is a recipe for disaster. What would you pay for peace of mind? For a ‘zero-defect’ environment? How about no lost time injuries? What’s the price of your license to operate? The panacea for all that ails you and your far-flung rig operation might be less expensive than you might think. And, survivability means many things to many people. MOTISS-IBA, no matter how you define survivability, is likely part of that equation.

(As published in the May 2014 edition of Marine News -


Marine News Magazine, page 58,  May 2014 oil majors

Read Alion’s MOTISS – IBA: the Science of Survivability in Pdf, Flash or Html5 edition of May 2014 Marine News

Other stories from May 2014 issue


Marine News

Marine News is the premier magazine of the North American Inland, coastal and Offshore workboat markets.