Posts tagged ‘photography’

Its a Chicken-Little World

Over the last two days, Phoenix put out an order to boil tap water before drinking and not to bathe or shower.  Many restaurants closed for the two day period, and many many people went out and loaded up on expensive bottled water.

What I found interesting was that through the whole "crisis", and now after the fact, Phoenix officials continued to say that they thought the water was safe, that they had not gotten any bad test results, but that people still shouldn't use the water "as a precaution".

Given the current state of liability and torts, I probably would have done the same in their shoes, but is this really the world we want?  There are costs to shutting off water in a city of 2 million plus people.  Shouldn't those costs be justified by some real risk? 

When I was an engineer, my job was often to rule on whether some condition was "safe".  Every day I had to make decisions like "should we shut this part of the plant down, or can we keep running it safely".  Certainly we wanted to err on the side of safety, but ruling every little concern as cause for shutdown would have caused the plant to be shut down almost all the time.  In that job, I had to take responsibility and make a decision, balancing risks and costs.  People want to say that shutting the plant (or the water system) at every hint of a problem is the "responsible" thing to do -- but in fact it is just the opposite.  It is an avoidance, both of decision-making and responsibility.

Unfortunately, no one wants to make such decisions anymore.  My wife's mammogram had something on it the doctor said he was 100% sure was just an artifact of the photography, but to cover his butt he said he had to get her to go have a biopsy (painful, expensive, and time-consuming) which was of course negative.  We are loading the economy down with risk-defense costs, an invisible tax that is already hammering the medical field.

But beyond just the costs, at what point does this hair-trigger defensive posture lead to a chicken-little syndrome where no one pays attention to warnings any more?  I know that the next time we get a warning about Phoenix water, I will be much less likely to be careful, because I remember that the last time nothing was really wrong with the water.  How many people pay attention to homeland security alerts any more?  Do you even bother to read warning labels any more, on the off chance it is a useful warning and not a "this toaster should not be used as a water ski" type warning?