Risk Analysis

Lognormal Approximations of Fault Tree Uncertainty Distributions

Journal Article

Abstract

Fault trees are used in reliability modeling to create logical models of fault combinations that can lead to undesirable events. The output of a fault tree analysis (the top event probability) is expressed in terms of the failure probabilities of basic events that are input to the model. Typically, the basic event probabilities are not known exactly, but are modeled as probability distributions: therefore, the top event probability is also represented as an uncertainty distribution. Monte Carlo methods are generally used for evaluating the uncertainty distribution, but such calculations are computationally intensive and do not readily reveal the dominant contributors to the uncertainty. In this article, a closed‐form approximation for the fault tree top event uncertainty distribution is developed, which is applicable when the uncertainties in the basic events of the model are lognormally distributed. The results of the approximate method are compared with results from two sampling‐based methods: namely, the Monte Carlo method and the Wilks method based on order statistics. It is shown that the closed‐form expression can provide a reasonable approximation to results obtained by Monte Carlo sampling, without incurring the computational expense. The Wilks method is found to be a useful means of providing an upper bound for the percentiles of the uncertainty distribution while being computationally inexpensive compared with full Monte Carlo sampling. The lognormal approximation method and Wilks’s method appear attractive, practical alternatives for the evaluation of uncertainty in the output of fault trees and similar multilinear models.

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