Posted: November 25th, 2022

Systems Engineer Case Study Paper

  

The following Systems Engineering case study to research and study. 

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Medical Radiation Case Study (Attached Case Study)

Here is a resource for the Friedman-Sage Framework that will be needed for your case studies:

http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a468062

1. In your own words, describe and summarize your top 3 lessons learned from the case study for the week. 

The Friedman-Sage Framework can be used as a framework for your lessons learned paper. 

For example, when evaluating your case study, determine how the Friedman-Sage Framework was used. You might find that a part of the model was used effectively, or you might find that a part of the model was not used effectively in your case study. You can use the model to help make suggestions concerning your case study. 

1. Your top 3 lessons learned should include proposed system engineering practices that would support mitigation that you find necessary by studying the case study.

2. Your lessons learned paper should also include the good and bad system engineering practices that you observed in the case study. 

Following are phases of the Friedman-Sage Framework for the case study. 

· Requirements Definition and Management

· Systems Architecture Development

· System/Subsystem Design

· Validation/Verification

· Risk Management

· Systems Integration & Interfaces

· Life Cycle Support

· Deployment and Post Deployment

· System and Program Management 

Be sure to cite all references in APA format.

The following Systems Engineering case study to research and study.

Medical Radiation Case Study (Attached Case Study)

Here is a resource for the Friedman-Sage Framework that will be needed for your case studies:

http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a468062

1. In your own words, describe and summarize your top 3 lessons learned from the case study for the week.

The Friedman-Sage Framework can be used as a framework for your lessons learned paper.

For example, when evaluating your case study, determine how the Friedman-Sage Framework was used. You might find that a part of the model was used effectively, or you might find that a part of the model was not used effectively in your case study. You can use the model to help make suggestions concerning your case study.

1. Your top 3 lessons learned should include proposed system engineering practices that would support mitigation that you find necessary by studying the case study.

2. Your lessons learned paper should also include the good and bad system engineering practices that you observed in the case study.

Following are phases of the Friedman-Sage Framework for the case study.

· Requirements Definition and Management

· Systems Architecture Development

· System/Subsystem Design

· Validation/Verification

· Risk Management

· Systems Integration & Interfaces

· Life Cycle Support

· Deployment and Post Deployment

· System and Program Management

Be sure to cite all references in APA format.

Medical Radiation
From SEBoK
Case Studies > Medical Radiation

Lead Authors: Heidi Davidz, John Brackett

This case study presents system and software engineering issues relevant to the accidents
associated with the Therac-25 medical linear accelerator that occurred between 1985 and 1988. The
six accidents caused five deaths and serious injury to several patients. The accidents were system
accidents that resulted from complex interactions between hardware components, controlling
software, and operator functions.

Contents

1 Domain Background

2 Case Study Background
3 Case Study Description
4 Summary■
5 Recent Medical Radiation Experience■
6 References■

6.1 Works Cited■
6.2 Primary References■
6.3 Additional References■

Domain Background
Medical linear accelerators, devices used to treat cancer, accelerate electrons to create high energy
beams that can destroy tumors. Shallow tissue is treated with the accelerated electrons. The
electron beam is converted to X-ray photons to reach deeper tissues. Accidents occur when a patient
is delivered an unsafe amount of radiation.

A radiation therapy machine is controlled by software that monitors the machine’s status, accepts
operator input about the radiation treatment to be performed, and initializes the machine to perform
the treatment. The software turns the electron beam on in response to an operator command. The
software turns the beam off whenever the treatment is complete, the operator requests the beam to
shutdown, or when the hardware detects a machine malfunction. A radiation therapy machine is a
reactive system in which the system’s behavior is state dependent and the system’s safety depends
upon preventing entry into unsafe states. For example, the software controls the equipment that
positions the patient and the beam. The positioning operations can take a minute or more to execute,
thus it is unsafe to activate the electron beam while a positioning operation is in process.

In the early 1980s, Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) developed the Therac-25, a dual-mode (X-rays
or electrons) linear accelerator that can deliver photons at 25 megaelectron volts (MeV) or electrons

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at various energy levels. The Therac-25 superseded the Therac-20, the previous 20-MeV dual mode
accelerator with a history of successful clinical use. The Therac-20 used a DEC PDP-11 (Digital
Equipment Corporation Programmed Data Processor) minicomputer for computer control and
featured protective circuits for monitoring the electron beam, as well as mechanical interlocks for
policing the machine to ensure safe operation. AECL decided to increase the responsibilities of the
Therac-25 software for maintaining safety and eliminated most of the hardware safety mechanisms
and interlocks. The software, written in PDP-11 assembly language, was partially reused from earlier
products in the Therac product line. Eleven Therac-25s were installed at the time of the first
radiation accident in June 1985.

The use of radiation therapy machines has increased rapidly in the last 25 years. The number of
medical radiation machines in the United States in 1985 was approximately 1000. By 2009 the
number had increased to approximately 4450. Some of the types of system problems found in the
Therac-25 may be present in the medical radiation devices currently in use. References to more
recent accidents are included below.

Case Study Background
The Therac-25 accidents and their causes are well documented in materials from the U.S. and
Canadian regulatory agencies (e.g., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Canadian
Bureau of Radiation and Medical Devices) and in depositions associated with lawsuits brought
against AECL. An article by Leveson and Turner (1993) provides the most comprehensive, publicly
available description of the accident investigations, the causes of the accidents, and the lessons
learned relevant to developing systems where computers control dangerous devices.

Case Study Description
The Therac-25 accidents are associated with the non-use or misuse of numerous system engineering
practices, especially system verification and validation, risk management, and assessment and
control. In addition, numerous software engineering good practices were not followed, including
design reviews, adequate documentation, and comprehensive software unit and integration tests.

The possibility of radiation accidents increased when AECL made the systems engineering decision
to increase the responsibilities of the Therac-25 software for maintaining safety and eliminated most
of the hardware safety mechanisms and interlocks. In retrospect, the software was not worthy of
such trust. In 1983 AECL performed a safety assessment on the Therac-25. The resulting fault tree
did include computer failures, but only those associated with hardware; software failures were not
considered in the analysis.

The software was developed by a single individual using PDP-11 assembly language. Little software
documentation was produced during development. An AECL response to the FDA indicated the lack
of software specifications and of a software test plan. Integrated system testing was employed
almost exclusively. Leveson and Turner (1993) described the functions and design of the software
and concluded that there were design errors in how concurrent processing was handled. Race
conditions resulting from the implementation of multitasking also contributed to the accidents.

AECL technical management did not believe that there were any conditions under which the Therac-
25 could cause radiation overdoses, and this belief was evident in the company’s initial responses to
accident reports. The first radiation overdose accident occurred in June 1985 at the Kennestone
Regional Oncology Center in Marietta, Georgia, where the Therac-25 had been operating for about 6
months. The patient who suffered the radiation overdose filed suit against the hospital and AECL in
October 1985. No AECL investigation of the incident occurred and FDA investigators later found
that AECL had no mechanism in place to follow up potential reports of suspected accidents.
Additionally, other Therac-25 users received no information that an accident had occurred.

Two more accidents occurred in 1985, including a radiation overdose at Yakima Valley Memorial

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Hospital in Yakima, Washington that resulted in an accident report to AECL. The AECL technical
support supervisor responded to the hospital in early 1986: “After careful consideration, we are of
the opinion that this damage could not have been produced by any malfunction of the Therac-25 or
by any operator error… there have apparently been no other instances of similar damage to this or
other patients.”

In early 1986 there were two accidents at the East Texas Cancer Center in Tyler, Texas, both of
which resulted in the death of the patient within a few months. On March 21, 1986 the first massive
radiation overdose occurred, though the extent of the overdose was not realized at the time. The
Therac-25 was shut down for testing the day after the accident. Two AECL engineers, one from the
plant in Canada, spent a day running machine tests but could not reproduce the malfunction code
observed by the operator at the time of the accident. The home office engineer explained that it was
not possible for the Therac-25 to overdose a patient. The hospital physicist, who supervised the use
of the machine, asked AECL if there were any other reports of radiation overexposure. The AECL
quality assurance manager told him that AECL knew of no accidents involving the Therac-25.

On April 11, 1986 the same technician received the same malfunction code when an overdose
occurred. Three weeks later the patient died; an autopsy showed acute high-dose radiation injury to
the right temporal lobe of the brain and to the brain stem. The hospital physicist was able to
reproduce the steps the operator had performed and measured the high radiation dosage delivered.
He determined that data-entry speed during editing of the treatment script was the key factor in
producing the malfunction code and the overdose. Examination of the portion of the code
responsible for the Tyler accidents showed major software design flaws. Levinson and Turner (1993)
describe in detail how the race condition occurred in the absence of the hardware interlocks and
caused the overdose. The first report of the Tyler accidents came to the FDA from the Texas Health
Department. Shortly thereafter, AECL provided a medical device accident report to the FDA
discussing the radiation overdoses in Tyler.

On May 2, 1986 the FDA declared the Therac-25 defective and required the notification of all
customers. AECL was required to submit to the FDA a corrective action plan for correcting the
causes of the radiation overdoses. After multiple iterations of a plan to satisfy the FDA, the final
corrective action plan was accepted by the FDA in the summer of 1987. The action plan resulted in
the distribution of software updates and hardware upgrades that reinstated most of the hardware
interlocks that were part of the Therac-20 design.

AECL settled the Therac-25 lawsuits filed by patients that were injured and by the families of
patients who died from the radiation overdoses. The total compensation has been estimated to be
over $150 million.

Summary
Leveson and Turner (1993) describe the contributing factors to Therac-25 accidents: “We must
approach the problems of accidents in complex systems from a systems-engineering point of view
and consider all contributing factors.” For the Therac-25 accidents, the contributing factors included

management inadequacies and a lack of procedures for following through on all reported incidents;■
overconfidence in the software and the resulting removal of hardware interlocks (causing the■
software to be a single point of failure that could lead to an accident);
less than acceptable software engineering practices; and■
unrealistic risk assessments along with over confidence in the results of those assessments.■

Recent Medical Radiation Experience
Between 2009 and 2011, The New York Times published a series of articles by Walter Bogdanich on
the use of medial radiation, entitled “Radiation Boom” (2011).

The following quotations are excerpts from that series:

Increasingly complex, computer-controlled devices are fundamentally changing medical
radiation, delivering higher doses in less time with greater precision than ever before.”
But patients often know little about the harm that can result when safety rules are
violated and ever more powerful and technologically complex machines go awry. To
better understand those risks, The New York Times examined thousands of pages of
public and private records and interviewed physicians, medical physicists, researchers
and government regulators. The Times found that while this new technology allows
doctors to more accurately attack tumors and reduce certain mistakes, its complexity
has created new avenues for error — through software flaws, faulty programming, poor
safety procedures or inadequate staffing and training. . . .

Linear accelerators and treatment planning are enormously more complex than 20 years
ago,’ said Dr. Howard I. Amols, chief of clinical physics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center in New York. But hospitals, he said, are often too trusting of the new
computer systems and software, relying on them as if they had been tested over time,
when in fact they have not. . . .

Hospitals complain that manufacturers sometimes release new equipment with software
that is poorly designed, contains glitches or lacks fail-safe features, records show.
Northwest Medical Physics Equipment in Everett, Wash., had to release seven software
patches to fix its image-guided radiation treatments, according to a December 2007
warning letter from the F.D.A. Hospitals reported that the company’s flawed software
caused several cancer patients to receive incorrect treatment, government records
show.

References
Works Cited
Bogdanich, W. 2011. Articles in the “Radiation Boom” series. New York Times. June 2009-February
2011. Accessed November 28, 2012. Available:
http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/us/series/radiation_boom.

Leveson, N.G., and C.S. Turner. 1993. “An Investigation of the Therac-25 Accidents.” Computer. 26
(7): 18-41.

Primary References
None.

Additional References
None.

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