System Failure was an event that would occur in the Swan station if the code was not entered into the computer by the time the countdown timer reached zero. Hieroglyphs would be displayed after a few seconds, and then the electromagnetic force near the concrete wall in the Hatch would begin to build rapidly, pulling any and all magnetic metallic objects inward from increasingly great distances. (Non-ferromagnetic metals, such as copper, aluminium and brass were not visibly affected; this is why Desmond's key was not affected by the force.) The words "System Failure" would repeatedly scroll across the screen of the computer, and the event would be logged on the computer at the Pearl, where a corresponding printout could be produced. There would also be a loud alarm sound, and the speakers would repeat "system failure," with a female voice.
If the electromagnetic force hadn't yet destroyed the computer, there would still be time to enter the numbers and terminate the System Failure, preventing further damage.
At least two system failures are known with certainty to have occurred:
- On September 22, 2004 at 4:16 (dated by the log printout), Desmond believed that he caused the crash of Flight 815 when his absence from the Hatch led to a brief system failure. ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1")
- On November 26, 2004, Locke decided not to push the button and threw the computer to the floor, preventing Desmond from entering the code. Desmond attempted to rectify the situation by using the fail-safe mechanism. This in turn was followed by the discharge and the implosion of the Swan. ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1")
- For fan theories about these unanswered questions, see: System Failure/Theories
- What system failed during a System Failure, and what was/is the nature of that system?
- What happened behind the wall when a system failure would occur?
- Why did DHARMA choose to use Hieroglyphs in their counter?
- Did a System Failure lead to the sealing of the area?
- The words "System Failure" were prominent in the movie The Matrix in the streaming number display at the end after the main character Neo was fully awakened to his powers.