Abstract In this article, we advocate the use of mode automata as a high level representation language for reliability studies. Mode automata are states/transitions based representations with the additional notion of flow. They can be seen as a generalization of both finite capacity Petri nets and block diagrams. They can be assembled into hierarchies by means of composition operations. The contribution of this article is twofold. First, we introduce mode automata and we discuss their relationship with other formalisms. Second, we propose an algorithm to compile mode automata into Boolean equations (fault trees). Such a compilation is of interest for two reasons. First, assessment tools for Boolean models are much more efficient than those for states/transitions models. Second, the automated generation of fault trees from higher level representations makes easier their maintenance through the life cycle of systems under study.