Out of Sight, Out of Mind

November 18th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Victoria E. Pitt

Severe Tornado Outbreak Hits Illinois

Disasters are things you can plan for, but not predict. The truth is that a disaster WILL happen, but very rarely do we get to know when and how extensive. A tornado outbreak in late November in the US Midwest? Who would have thought it or predicted it? This is a natural event in the US that we typically worry about during the spring and summer. Still, its mid November and it happened and whole communities have been devastated, if not wiped off the map.

I am not a part of the clean up and recovery efforts currently going on in the Philippines or in the US Midwest- wish that I were. Still, I think this is a good time to mention how much disaster planning and testing really is one of those things that most organizations and people treat as “out of sight, out of mind”.

One of the interesting things that I learned during my tenure of working in New Orleans the year after Katrina was how much attention, and how it became critical to address the issues of health, safety, and communications right after a disaster, but take some time after the occurrence, when the media leaves, only to come back to do a “six months after” story, once the stench and debris of the event are placed somewhere that isn’t immediately seen or accessible, though the suffering might go on, though the ill planning and cracks in the system which caused the mismanagement to occur in the first place continue, things go back to “business as usual”. The funding might be there to improve systems and procedures for first responders (or at least it was after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina- the recent government funding woes may have deeply cut into grants for emergency management projects) but because it isn’t an immediate concern, the day to day running of business/government/systems takes precedence to what to do when all hell breaks loose. Though we were only months away from an event that would end up in the history books as a prime example of what not to do, trying to fix the situation holistically faded more each day- until there was a tropical storm in the gulf that may have caused the Emergency Operations Center in New Orleans to have to “stand up” again- without the promised technology and improved processes that was already funded due to Katrina, but not followed through due to bureaucracy and the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Still, any time the media was making a visit, or there was the threat of a storm repeat, it became topic number one and then the questions were always asked “where are we with the new citywide evacuation system?”

To this day, I am not sure where New Orleans stands- our contract with the city was pulled before we could finish our work there, and we left, leaving the equipment, the technology, and the plans behind. I’d love to know what the city’s new plan ended up looking like. I’d like to think that a good chunk of the pieces that I put in it still exist. That being said, I also know that unless there was a “clear and present” danger, planning for the next disaster was less and less important the further and further away from August 29th, 2005 we were. Since then, there has been regime change in New Orleans and I’d like to think that the process we started there was completed, but we’ll never know until it happens again and this “once in a lifetime storm” happens, once in a lifetime, again. More recently, the Atlantic has been relatively mild these past few years and what storms that have hit are taking aim at the upper East Coast. There will be another “once in a lifetime” storm somewhere else, in our lifetime- several of them actually, just not likely in the same place. Still, disasters come in all forms, not just hurricanes (always remember 9/11), and planning responses for them is something that must be done from federal, municipal and corporate levels.

My point with all of this is though it is great if occurrences such as these make people take a moment to think about their disaster and crisis planning, it is more important to revisit these plans and make changes to them periodically. Technology changes. Best practices change. Taking advantage of new innovations in technology and planning can save not only dollars but lives while adding increased efficiency and getting the business of getting back to “business as usual” that much faster.

The human factor will always matter

August 29th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Victoria E. Pitt

I admit that I have some vices… one of them being watching Airline Disaster shows. I don’t know why I’m obsessed with them, especially as much as I fly for work and pleasure but I admit I can spend a good few hours on YouTube watching them. I always wanted to work for the NTSB- I think I enjoy the mystery aspect of it- along with my love of all things flight related. One of the things I have noticed in the more recent accident the airlines have had is that sometimes the computer or the auto pilot can confuse or even hamper a flight crew’s understanding and control of a situation, presenting data that is both confusing and wrong.

Which is why this article on Quartz stuck out to me. The paragraph that catches my eye below:

Europe’s painful and possibly needless austerity

Excel errors helped to push serious budget cuts that have roiled Europe and devastated social services there. As IEEE.org explains:

Back in 2009, Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff published a book with the provocative title, “This Time It’s Different.” The professors asserted in their book that, among other things, their empirical research demonstrated that when advanced economies’ public liabilities reach or exceed “the important marker of 90 percent of GDP,” long-term economic growth and stability are placed at peril.
Governments, and particularly European governments, went on to use Reinhart and Rogoff’s book to justify their embrace of austerity. But a University of Mass review of their book and the research it was based on found “coding errors, selective exclusion of available data, and unconventional weighting of summary statistics,” linked in part to Excel errors.

As BreakingViews pointed out earlier this year, Microsoft Office, and particularly Excel, might be the “quiet villain of global finance,” given its programs implicated in some of the worst financial problems the world has experienced in recent years, including errors at Moody’s Investors Services that gave complicated debt instruments AAA ratings and the “elegant graphics of Power Point” which have validated some of the “wackiest results from spreadsheets and the kookiest strategies” by chief executives and investment bankers.

That’s rather frightening. But I also think its a good case that even as much as you may automate, its still good to have a few pairs of “human eyes” with training in their craft able to verify and look over how information is presented. It goes back to the adage “measure twice, cut once”. When one is dealing with lives and or things on a global level, best to let a human make the ultimate decision… with help from a machine.

You just can’t take the human element out of daily interactions and expect to be successful in the long term.

Seeds in Detroit

October 19th, 2012 / 1 Comment » / by Victoria E. Pitt

I was in Detroit recently to follow up getting my Global Entry credentials completed. Now, it’s been maybe 15 years since the last time I rolled through Detroit so I was looking forward to seeing what, if anything had changed. One still gets the news reports about all the stray dogs running loose, the abandoned houses, the crime, the loss of jobs. Considering the last time I was in Detroit, it was coming sundown and I observed a pack of coyotes running through the downtown district, I wasn’t expecting much…

… which is usually when you’re thrown for a loop.

I was pleasantly surprised to find much of the downtown area revitalized and refurbished. It still felt like something of a ghost town, as least this time unlike the last, I felt a heartbeat in there somewhere. Mind you, they did have to bring casinos in to help but the irony in that is that the casinos actually helped to bring crime down in some of the areas surrounding them. Further, Detroit has been spending a lot of money in building up its riverfront park, adding more miles of green public space to picnic in or jog, or just enjoy looking at the river. A lot of cute “trendy” eateries and shops are reappearing in the city center (okay, some of them definitely “hipster” in nature but I don’t go into my opinions on that on THIS page). Personally, I saw quite a few properties and brownstones that would go for tons of cash in the Chicago that I personally would love to own if I had the cash (and it was Chicago) which got me thinking…

See, if you start to go out to the edges of the Detroit, the surrounding neighborhoods, there is still a huge problem. People have left; some are coming back, but not in the numbers yet still to start to turn the neighborhoods around. The jobs, the jobs, it’s always the jobs… they aren’t there. The legacy of Detroit is car manufacturing and well, that’s never going to be back to what it once was. Parts of the population feel stuck, can’t afford to move, no future if they stay. And so the blight deepens except in the few places that big money can reach or even has the impetus to do so.

Which brought me to thinking again about those lovely houses that are oh-so-inexpensive (yet dangerous), the people who once helped produce all that rolling iron, and the manufacturing prowess that the US once had. I start to think about things like Kickstarter, entrepreneurship, technology, workforce retraining, and out of the box thinking. I think about risk and I think about how much potential there is in that risk. I think about how because the US shipped off so much manufacturing overseas, we’ve lost some of the ability to innovate and develop because we’re not on the front line of facing the problems when they show up on the production floor. It doesn’t always take someone from Harvard of MIT to come up with a great idea- often time it just takes having an active mind presented with an immediate problem and a moment of insight. Putting all these thoughts together and my deep down desire to be the female “Bruce Wayne” and own one of those tall retro towers in Detroit with me having a nice lair full of all things nerdy on the top three floors as I overlook the river myself, I came up with this, which probably isn’t a particularly original thought but still interesting:

What would it take to get Detroit back into manufacturing? Who would be bold enough to pilot a project to see if common belief is true- the US cannot be competitive with Asia when it comes to technology manufacturing, or, maybe… maybe things aren’t so cut and dry.

I don’t want to spend time here regurgitating facts, figures, estimates, and other discussions about “why not” because I think we spend far more time thinking about “no” these days than thinking about “how?”

What I want to explore is if anyone or any corporation is willing to take a chance, a real college try, on retraining some workers up there, reopening one of those closed auto plants, and seeing if we can make some chips, or some computers, or something, something, that people can take pride in and prove that maybe all that “Harvard “ thinking is just that- thinking. Again I wish I had a few million to plop down and try this experiment. I wish I could get an Apple or a Dell or an HP to back me to see if it could be done on an experimental basis. Trying to throw something up on Kickstarter has crossed my mind several times and it’s more that I don’t have the cycles to really reach out to companies and say “Hey, let’s start a social experiment that has financial consequences of a POSITIVE nature.” Let’s see if we can prove the “easy way” wrong.

I drove through Detroit, glanced across for a moment at Windsor, thought about everything that is wrong and everything that is right about the US, the history, the future, my love for technology, and my hidden desire to actually help improve society, even if I occasionally act like the female version of Gordon Gekko from Wall Steet fame. Let me say once here and for now, and then we’ll all forget it- I learned to play the game and at the end, I play the game to dish out the spoils as I see fit and it isn’t for having Ducatis and yachts… I want to make a real change using what I know, what I observe, and what I think the potential there is in people when they can see the dream for themselves and feel they legitimately have the ability to reach for it. I want to create more opportunities and more innovation. I want to somehow make that happen (and still ride my Ducati *wink*), and prove that a few people in key positions aren’t always right and in this case, in the case of Detroit, I think it could be something better, something more.. than just something that is surviving. There is a huge difference.

Perhaps as the holidays roll around and maybe I get a few more moments to dream myself, I’ll get something up on Kickstarter, I’ll contact Dell, Apple, or hell, maybe even Richard Branson because I admire that guy. I want to see if I can plant a seed and see if I’m right. I have a few ideas of what to build there. Okay, I have more than a few.

I really do think the potential to be more is there. I think we can make people not afraid of dreaming again.

P.S. I highly recommend “Screw It, Let’s Do It” for anyone who has the remote interest in business and going against the flow.

P.P.S. HI!! Not dead yet! Just busy! :)

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