RESEARCHER OF THE MONTH

Meet Alexandria Major, OFI Module I Master's student

by Alexandria Kerstin Major

I am eager to pursue research in this field [safety engineering] in order to find any solutions regarding the application of personal locator beacons in maritime settings and ways in which their activation can be successful to save even more lives than they already save.

Alexandria Major is a Masters of Engineering Student (M.Eng) in Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her area of research is investigating the manual performance and usability of personal locator beacons for cold maritime environments. She is a Teaching Assistant at Memorial University this semester for Marine Engineering systems and Intro to Ocean and Naval Design. She completed her undergraduate degree in Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering at MUN where she had the opportunity to work abroad in Hamburg, Germany and London, UK for some of her co-operative work terms. Her fields of interest are safety engineering, oil and gas, offshore structures, and Arctic engineering.

What is your research about? What are you currently working on? 

My research will determine if there are usability issues with personal locator beacons (PLBs) for emergency situations where a person’s manual performance might be degraded by exposure to cold water. Emergency locator distress beacons are used to transmit an emergency distress signal to help rescue authorities locate the survivors. Personal locator beacons are small, lightweight, and portable handheld devices which when carried by an individual can safeguard their life in an emergency. In a maritime setting their application is critical for someone falling overboard at Sea. My research is primarily pertaining to the influence of a cold and wet environment on an individual’s manual dexterity abilities (tactile sensitivity, fine motor skills) for the successful activation of the beacon in a situation of distress. I am fairly early on in the masters program and I am currently preparing an ethics application and designing human factors experiments to be conducted in the upcoming semesters. This will include a set of standardized tests for testing manual dexterity and tactile sensitivity as well as specific tests regarding the use of PLBs. The main objectives of this study are to gain knowledge on the impact of cold and wet hands on an individual's ability to successfully activate a personal locator beacon and whether certain design configurations of the beacons would be more advantageous for a successful activation (button characteristics, button size, button texture).

What drew you to explore this topic originally?

I wanted to learn more about safety engineering and its application regarding human factors. Safety engineering is a very important field of engineering in which I have not yet had the opportunity to explore. In particular, the application of safety in a maritime environment in which I could apply my naval architectural engineering background and concepts from my undergraduate degree in my master's degree and research. Especially learning more about the human factors issues relating to the use of personal locator beacons and possible design considerations which could contribute to their successful activation by an individual in an emergency situation.

What is the most interesting aspect of your research? Share something you have discovered through your research so far.

 

The most interesting aspect of my research is learning more about emergency signaling devices and the important role they play in an emergency situation. Previously, in my engineering studies I did not have much experience relating to the safety engineering aspect of design. The field of safety engineering interests me as I want to learn more about the safety aspects of design and how it can help someone use a device such as a PLB. Additionally, I find it interesting to research and explore topics relating to engineering applications in cold environments and how these environments influence a person's manual performance. It is interesting to learn more about the human factors side of designing experiments. Something I did not know and was brought to my attention was that out of the many fatalities in the fishing industry in Canada 44 percent of the 63 fishing vessel deaths between 2011 and 2017 emergency signals were not received by authorities (TSB, 2018). Therefore, I am more eager to pursue research in this field in order to find any solutions regarding the application of personal locator beacons in maritime settings and ways in which their activation can be successful to save even more lives than they already save.

How does your research address present day fisheries issues in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere? How does it help inform governance responses for coastal communities in the province in a context of change?

My research will generate new information regarding usability of PLBs, particularly for someone who has been immersed in cold water. This will in turn enable me to provide useful information for PLB manufacturers, regulators, trainers and most importantly for users in order to improve upon any usability issues found.  This could include improved approaches to training, improvements in design and changes to regulations governing design, usability and operation. The research will provide new information for fish harvesters about what they need to do in order to activate a PLB after they have fallen in cold water. I hope it will also help to build people’s confidence in PLBs and make people more aware of their usefulness, as well as their possible limitations.

What is the one thing you would like the general public to know about your research?

I would like the public to know that there are a number different types of PLBs available for use in the fishing industry and that they can have a real impact on fish harvester safety. These signaling beacons and understanding their application as a piece of critical safety equipment for fish harvesters in emergency situations is very important. Although the use of a personal locator beacon is not required for fish harvesters, when worn on a person's life jacket before entering the water they can be activated and used to notify the authorities of an emergency and help reduce the associated search time. My research is important for identifying the gaps in knowledge relating to the use of PLBs in cold and wet environments.

What are the next steps and what do you want to achieve with your research?

The next steps for my research are to design and conduct human factor experiments involving both standardized and PLB targeted tests to investigate the manual performance of users when interacting with these signaling devices upon cold water immersion. The main objectives of my research are to gain knowledge on whether cold and wet hands influence an individual's ability to successfully activate a personal locator beacon and if this is the case, are some design configurations of the beacons more preferable than others (e.g. button texture, size and location). From the research, I hope that we will be able to provide new information to manufacturers, regulators, users and trainers to improve PLB usability.

What do you like doing when you are not working on research?

When I am not working on research I enjoy cooking, spending time with my family and staying in touch with my international friends in Europe.

Learn more:

To be in touch with Alexandria, you can email her at akm053@mun.ca.

Written by Alexandria Kerstin Major

Alexandria is a Masters of Engineering Student (M.Eng) in Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her area of research is investigating the manual performance and usability of personal locator beacons for cold maritime environments. She is a Teaching Assistant at Memorial University this semester for Marine Engineering systems and Intro to Ocean and Naval Design. She completed her undergraduate degree in Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering at MUN where she had the opportunity to work abroad in Hamburg, Germany and London, UK for some of her co-operative work terms. Her fields of interest are safety engineering, oil and gas, offshore structures, and Arctic engineering. She is currently part of Ocean Frontier Institute's Module I-4 on Marine Health & Safety.

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