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Dr John May

Safety Systems

John May leads research in the Safety Systems Research Centre, which is a part of the South West Nuclear Research and Teaching Hub, in which he is a steering committee member. The SSRC studies risk and resilience in a new breed of highly complex systems built by man. Existing scientific and engineering techniques have been unable to describe or control these phenomena.

For example, it was previously thought to be the case that non-trivial software based systems were untestable, in the sense that testing could not provide meaningful quantitative assurance of software reliability. We have demonstrated that this not the case for a significant class of software, and have applied new statistical reliability testing techniques to critical nuclear systems, including reactor protection systems and smart devices. The latest research is enhancing the power of these techniques to demonstrate higher reliabilities and apply to a wider class of systems. 

Socio-technical systems also exhibit complex systematic failure behaviour, the result of which can be seen in repeated large industry accidents (Bunsfield, Macondo, Hatfield, Piper Alpha, etc.) The UK National Security Strategy classes these accidents as 'Tier 1' risks to the UK, alongside terrorist and cyber attacks. SSRC is developing new ideas for the control of dangerous accident precursors in large organisations.

The SSRC also works on a new method to evaluate risk, based on the 'J-value'. This can be used to prioritise mitigation activities and understand where best to allocate the costs of protecting against disasters. 

Within the University of Bristol, the SSRC is part of the Systems Centre, the Bristol-Oxford Nuclear Research Centre, and the South West Nuclear Hub.