Systems Theoretic Process Analysis (STPA)

John Thomas
Dr. John Thomas is a Research Engineer in the Safety and Security Research Laboratory at MIT. His research involves creating methods for analyzing complex software-intensive systems, especially systems that may behave in unanticipated, unsafe, or otherwise undesirable ways through complex interactions with each other and their environment. More recently he has been applying these techniques to more


Abstract: As today’s systems are becoming increasingly complex and automated, nearly every industry has struggled to assure that their systems will operate reliably and as expected. For example, in 2008 an aircraft was destroyed during a rejected takeoff because a computer not only overrode pilot commands to slow the aircraft, but in fact increased the engine’s thrust level. In 2014, security researchers were able to use a Jeep Cherokee’s parking assist system to gain remote control of the steering wheel while driving. These and many other incidents involve individual components that each operated exactly as designed and yet the overall systems exhibited new unexpected behaviors—a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common in modern systems. This webinar will introduce Systems Theoretic Process Analysis (STPA), a new systems approach for more effective design and analysis of large complex systems. The interdisciplinary approach is designed to capture often-overlooked issues such as incomplete, incorrect, or missing requirements, flawed automation, unanticipated interactions among components or subsystems, and unexpected human interactions. Although STPA can be used for safety analysis, it can also be used for other goals such as quality and security and it can be used to guide initial development efforts under design uncertainty when some of the most critical decisions are made. While STPA is relatively new, it is now being used in many industries including aviation, spacecraft, automotive, nuclear, petrochemical, and defense.

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