The People? Or, The Government? You Decide….

The wreckage of Galveston,Texas, lies strewn over many square miles after Hurricane Ike sauntered through the low-lying township, whipping up seas and tearing apart houses. Thankfully, mandatory evacuation orders meant everyone got out alive before the storm broke.

Except, that we hear today of twenty-three thousand residents who didn’t go anywhere. They stayed behind, put their lives, and those of others, at great risk. Then they had the nerve to demand rescue, food and shelter, after their homes were badly damaged and water and power disconnected.

In English, the definition of “mandatory” is ‘obligatory’, ‘constituting a command’. In Texan, apparently, it means something completely different.

Those from Galveston, who disobeyed the mandatory evacuation order, obviously spared little thought for the danger they imposed on the people required to rescue them when their overactive egos and Texan bravado ran out, and they dialed 911, pleading for assistance.

Over three thousand 911 calls during the night, according to one report.

Perhaps, in future, ‘mandatory’ might mean a hefty fine for those who choose to disobey. Freedom to lose one’s own life is fine; freedom to possibly cause the deaths of others, is not.

Meanwhile, further west in Los Angeles, they’re clearing up after the most deadly train crash in California’s history. We learn today the driver of the passenger train ignored a red signal. He was an employee of twelve year’s experience.

Human error is not tolerated well in modern society, particularly when it leads to such carnage. Nevertheless, whether on the road, in the air, or on the tracks, no matter how good the training, how reliable the machines, human error will always come back to haunt us from time to time. Human beings are not machines, even though their employers often demand they must be.

To overcome human error and help save lives, for four decades rail designers have been building a fail-safe system into their machinery. It’s called ‘Positive Train Control’. Most rail systems throughout Europe are fitted with PTC. It will stop a train if it runs a red signal.

The American National Transport Safety Board has been pushing for this system in California for a long time. Unfortunately, the legislation to allow that to happen is, according to the BBC, “hung up in Congress.”

After the Placentia, California, rail crash in April 2002 the NTSB issued a statement that included this damning remark from Chairman Ellen Engleman:

“The Safety Board has issued recommendations on Positive Train Control since 1969. The technology these systems provide are the best approach to reducing human error collision,” Engleman said. “The Board’s strong interest in this issue was further demonstrated when we placed PTC on our Most Wanted list in 1990.” [my bold]{1]

It begs the question: why has Congress made no effort to pass this legislation since 1969?

It’s not necessarily true, to quote Alexis de Tocqueville, that “people get the government they deserve,” but when one brings together the irresponsible inhabitants of Galveston and the even less accountable politicians who have sat on their well-padded backsides in Congress over the last forty years, and done nothing but pass pork bills, then mayhap de Tocqueville’s quote contains an element of truth after all.

[1] NTSB, October 10th 2003

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2 Replies to “The People? Or, The Government? You Decide….”

  1. Emergency evacuations should not be an option, RJA. I don’t know where these citizens of Texas got the idea that they were superhuman and could stay and fight such weather conditions. Did they not believe it would be as bad as it was? Was it lack of government credibility in their minds? Did they have fear of seizure of their properties by government forces, etc?
    I am really curious as to how their minds worked on this without the media/govt. spin.

    As to the train, no surprises there. Bottom line at all costs, including human.

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