Here’s the problem with the relentless pace of technological development. We aren’t using the new technology. Alvin Toffler
tried to show that futuristic developments sprang upon us in a
shocking way, sooner than we thought they would. Hence his term
and book title, Future Shock. He was right, but about 30 years
after his prediction.
There’s a lag in the implementation of good ideas. You’ll notice
this when you put coins in transit vehicles in Toronto, or when you
can’t use your credit card with the chip in London’s Underground.
And don’t count on taking a ticket and paying cash on the I-90 in
upstate New York. Watch out if you hit “exact change” on toll
roads in and around Chicago, when most of us don’t have any
change, let alone the exact change.
This is a pain. But sometimes not using new technology is a threat
to safety in urban emergency plans. Pittsburgh has a bomb threat
checklist in its plan. People talking to terrorists on the phone are
advised to listen for background noise, accents, lisps, and so on. This
may help police catch the perpetrators. But what will be of much
more use is a recording of the terrorist, so the accent can be identified
by a qualified analyst, not someone who is consumed by fear or prejudice. And that background noise? Is it the subway, light rail, heavy
rail, or the TV? You’ll know better if you have a recording.
It’s best to comply with the law if it requires callers to be told
they are being recorded. Calls can be erased regularly, but a copy
kept if there is a threat that’s phoned in. In many jurisdictions the
law allows a call to be recorded if one party to the conversation
agrees, and you’re one of the parties.
Recording telephone calls is one use of technology that might
keep us safer. But there’s another.
The emergency plan of Austin, Texas, advocates a “windshield
survey” of the site of urban emergencies. These are pretty popular
in many urban emergency plans. The term refers to police or other
emergency responders driving around looking over the damage. If
the damage involves sharp objects on the road, there’s no indication
of what to do with flat tires. If the damage is big tree limbs on the
road, there’s no indication of how to get over top of this debris. A
windshield survey from a parked or disabled car doesn’t seem helpful.
Boston calls for the use of “[a]viation assets (fixed wing and
rotary) utilizing video cameras” to assess damage. Boston is on
a better track with the reference to video cameras. Why rely on
memory or even the eyesight of a distraught responder? Where was
that family in distress? You’ll know for sure if you have a video.
How far down the stream do you think they’ve floated? Again,
video will be better than estimating.
In Baltimore, they’re planning “an in-stream walkthrough by
a trained professional.” This person (with rubber boots, one assumes) “may” look at the condition of bridges, culverts, and pipes,
“failing channelization, debris blockages” or other abnormalities
that may impede stream function. This person “may” also break
an ankle or drown.
Sorry, none of this makes any sense. Risking lives on foot, in
streams, in planes, and in cars is foolish. We have drones to fly over
emergency sites. We can hire a 10-year-old to operate the drone
and let trained emergency responders look at the video.
Do not put up with this in your town. Imagine that your son or
daughter were the emergency responder asked to walk or drive across
a disaster area to rent a plane or find a car to drive over the site. Imagine that this caused needless injury or death. Protest. Demand drones.
In the end, there are not many good reasons to avoid using technology from the 21st century — or at least 20th.