A while back I was visiting the New York office of an English company while writing my long lost book "The Ankle Swingers of Rat-dog Land". It was getting towards the end of the afternoon. Stifling an air conditioning inspired yawn I ventured down 39 floors to the lobby in search of sugary snacks and coffee. But instead received a lesson in preparedness, and the publics response to surprise.
Thursday, August 14, 2003, at approximately 4:11 p.m
The First Signs
There were slowly increasing numbers of people standing around, checking their crackberries, and just standing, where only moments before the torrent of worker ants was relentless it was now suddenly momentum-less. I went back to the lift [elevator] where the doors were half open and a woman was about to get in, she turned to me and chirpily asked "wanna take a chance?". I don't know about you but I've been led astray my glamourous older girls before, but this time the doors didn't look like they'd ever close so I bowed-out.
Meanwhile back in the lobby: the startled stop had been replaced by a belligerence that was taking its toll on the building's security staff. The chick behind the desk looked more frightened than the public. She was using the words "we'll let you know as soon as we know" as an ever shorter stick to push back the tide of ever more belligerent requests for information. One of her colleagues spoke to the group so Securi-chick and I got into conversation.
SBW: So I guess, no one is telling you anything and everyone is asking you for everything?
"I just don't trust them terrorists!" she confided in a note of rising panic. I have to admit I had to stifle a laugh. Surely that is the point of terrorism? But telling her that would have been counter productive. I'm an optimist by nature and optimism can be just as contagious as fear, the idea 'it's too early to tell' seemed to cheer her up. Looking out over the sheeple she agreed that panicking wasn't going to help, and I left her, good nature restored, confidently directing people to stay calm.
On the walk home I stopped off to chat with the Dry-Cleaning Guy, as usual a font of wisdom. I told him about the panic mongers working themselves into a frenzy certain of a terrorist attack. He responded with this wonderful ambiguity
"Bullshit! That's the first thing that comes out of their mouths"
He went on to sight a principle that I'm a big believer in. Offering this more likely speculation 'It'll be a blown relay in Canada"
Evil happens occasionally, incompetence is happening right now.
As we'll see in part 2 even in the worst of situations, incompetence is far more likely to get you than anything else. For the meantime I'll leave you with this sobering thought:
'Preparedness' is a process not an event
Its also a catch-all term for people from the heavily armed nut job of popular imagination to the just plain prudent - who have a water container, a first aid kit and some batteries to hand. Just because you don't feel the need for a foil-lined hat doesn't mean you wont feel the need for some batteries and a drink of water. It's worth mentioning that there aren't enough batteries or torches in the supply chain between factories and shops at any one time for everyone who needs them to buy them once the situation has started.
PS The art work is by the amazing Christop Niemann