Tag Archives: collapse

Expert Failure

An innocent passerby victimized by "expert failure."

An innocent passerby victimized by “expert failure.”

What do you call it when the people who are supposed to save the day, the so-called “experts,” fail to perform when the chips are down? There has got to be a terminology for that. For now, I’m going to go with the phrase “expert failure” or EF.

Example: “Yup. Things certainly went to shit. They EF’d up.”

In the excellent book Jurassic Park the character Ian Malcolm, a mathematician specializing in “chaos theory,” correctly predicts the failed hubris of the undertaking. (Also in the book the character John Hammond, the visionary, is ironically eaten by his creations. That tasty tidbit didn’t make it into the movie.) The genius of Michael Crichton’s book has nothing to do with dinosaurs. As Wikipedia puts it, the story is a “metaphor of collapse.”

Expert failure works like this:

  • Only we are brilliant enough to design and breed dinosaurs. You are not brilliant by a long shot. Oops. The dinosaurs got out. Bad shit happens. Our bad.
  • A virus enters the country. The hospitals and specialists we depend on for our very lives fail to follow basic protocols. (In unrelated news, studies have shown that 10 to 80 percent of ICU doctors fail to engage in sanitary hand washing as directed. Because, of course, they know better.)
  • A politician says, “Doing ABC will lead to XYZ.” When that doesn’t happen, he adds, “Obviously we need a lot more of ABC. We have to give my policies a chance to work.”
  • Your financial consultant advises you to invest heavily in Guru Of Negativity (ticker: GON) holdings and you lose your shirt.
  • A baseball teams spends $50 million on a single player (cutting other players from the team to make this possible). Later, in game seven of the World Series, bottom of ninth, two outs, full count, bases loaded, trailing by one run the fellow whiffs flailingly at three straight pitches in the dirt and strikes out.

That last example is my personal favorite because I could have easily matched that performance for at least half price. Show me the money!

What else have experts gotten wrong? FEMA? Vietnam? The financial crisis? Mortgage-backed securities? Bridges? Stampedes at religious gatherings? Platforms at state fairs? Fires in disco clubs? Interfering in the civil wars of other countries?

The list is long and distinguished.

So now we look to experts to clean up the messes that were created by the same and/or previous experts. I’m no expert but I say that sucks. When you’re stuck on your the tippy-top of your roof and the water is lapping at your toes, just remember this: There is no expert correction fairy who will swoop in and save your bacon.

Ultimately, no matter what the experts would like you to believe, you’re on your own.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to change into my baseball uniform. You can depend on me.

Things fall apart. The center does not hold. –Yeats

 

The collapse of a fair

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
–William Butler Yeats

Who doesn’t love a fair?

Me, for one.

Around here in my hometown there are yearly events like the County Fair and Derbytastic which some of the locals disparagingly call Dirttastic. (I’ve changed the name to protect the dirty.) In the 10 years I’ve lived in this small town I’ve never been to either event.

Somehow I don’t feel too deprived.

I think, when it comes to humans, there are two inescapable realities. Things can go wrong and, when they do, the protestations of “not my fault” by the people in charge will often be the result.

“We never could foreseen that” is a common refrain. It is incumbent on the rest of us to determine, for ourselves, if that is really true or not. When there has been loss of life, we have to know what happened. Was it preventable? Or not? Was there negligence? Was all done that could and should have been done?

In the case of a nuclear reactor in Japan we were quickly told things like “no one could have anticipated” what had happened. We were told it was a freak set of circumstances.

At Fukushima, what happened can simply be explained. The plant experienced an “act of God” that exceeded what the plant was designed to withstand. Then we get told how unlikely it was. What does that really matter when it already actually happened?

What about the Indiana State Fair, where five people lost their lives after a stage collapsed?

The information I’m about to write about is from news reports. The information can be wrong, either by design or accident. Therefore, as always, take what you read on the internet with a grain of salt. This is an opinion piece and contains my speculations.

Rolling Stone Music quoted a police officer on the scene as saying, “When you’re dealing with issues of freak circumstances of weather, I don’t know what you can do.” The governor of Indiana called the accident a “fluke.”

One article says that fair officials have not said if the stage and rigging was inspected before the collapse. This seems like the kind of thing they should know. With certainty.

The concert was being held in Indiana. High winds, storms and gusts are not that uncommon in the region. That sort of thing occurs with enough regularity that you’d think public events would consider the possibility as it pertained to human safety. Certain standards would be met and there would be plans to deal with and react to various contingencies, like evacuating under certain conditions.

Was a collapse an unforeseeable event? Hardly. Rolling Stone Music reported that the Indiana State Fair tragedy was the third such event just this summer. It was preceded by an outdoor stage collapse at a Cheap Trick concert in July in Canada and, only a week earlier, an incident at an outdoor concert of the Flaming Lips in Oklahoma where equipment was blown off the stage.

On the same night as the Indiana State Fair tragedy, just 15 miles north, another outdoor concert for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra was evacuated.

Tom Ramsey, the orchestra’s vice president and general manager, said the group reviews information from a private weather company and consults with the National Weather Service, with a goal of giving patrons at least 30 minutes to get to their vehicles if bad weather threatens.

“We saw a storm that contained lightning dip south a little bit. Once we saw that, I made the decision to stop the concert and send everyone to their cars,” he said.

Source: USAToday.com

Unlike my coworker, who seems to blame concertgoers for not taking evacuation on their own, I have many questions. Those who conduct public events assume responsibility for taking every precaution to protect the lives of people who attend their events.

I have many questions about this event. I wonder if all that could and should have been done was done. Were all reasonable precautions made? Was the decision to delay canceling the concert the correct one?