We really only know things work when we test them to the limit and see what it takes to make them fail, or nearly fail. All those air planes and space ships and regular shops and nice cars that usually don’t fail have a pedigree of prototypes or prototypes of parts that were pushed until they broke. Chickens fired into running Boeing 757 engines with a special Chicken Cannon. Crash dummies driving vehicles into specially built walls. Rocket engines exploding on test ranges. But many systems are never tested that way, and really can’t be. We build the systems and convince those who need convincing that they are stable, adaptable, appropriately designed, and ready. Then, real life comes along and pulls the fire alarm. It is not a drill. The system is stressed, and if it fails, that may be the first time we learn it wasn’t good enough.
Obamacare’s computer nightmare is a good example. It actually worked, ultimately, but at first it was one of the largest interactive computer services ever built and brought to so many users in such a short amount of time. There is general agreement that the system was built improperly and that is why it failed, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case. It may simply be that we can’t know that such a large and complex system is going to work when it is deployed, we should probably expect failure, and we should probably be ready to jump in and patch and repair and redo as needed. And, as a society, be a bit more grown up about the failure.
Three systems have been tested by the current Ebola outbreak and found wanting. One is the system of rational thinking among people. That is just not working very well. We have people in villages in West Africa thinking that health care workers who have come to help them are the cause of the scourge. We have tin-hat wearing Internet denizens insisting that that Ebola has already gone airborne, and that the US Government has a patent on the virus, and somehow it all makes sense, thanks Obama Bengazi! The failure of rational thought, which is a system supported by home grown culture and formal education, has been stressed and found wanting. We are not surprised, of course. I bring it up mainly because I want to point out that this is a general human failure, not just a failure among the victims in Africa who are so easily overtly blamed.
The global public health system has been tested and proved to be an utter failure. WHO and the CDC and all that have done a pretty good job with earlier, smaller, outbreaks of Ebola and other diseases, when they can fly in more people than even live in some remote African village, and most likely the hardest part of those missions is the logistics of getting to the field. That has been facilitated in the past by on the ground aid workers, missionaries, and in some cases, public health researchers who already knew the terrain. But they had a plan, they had gear, and it all mostly worked very well. We assumed the plan and gear and expertise and personnel was in place for a major outbreak. It wasn’t. That system has been tested and failed.
And now we are seeing a third system showing itself to be a failure, and it is actually kind of surprising. In speaking of the problem of screening for possible Ebola carriers coming in to the US on planes we learn that there isn’t a way to keep track of people flying to the US from other countries. From CNN:
“All options are on the table for further strengthening the screening process here in the U.S., and that includes trying to screen people coming in from Ebola-affected countries with temperature checks,” a federal official said… “It’s not as easy as it sounds. There aren’t that many direct flights from Ebola-affected countries to the U.S. anymore. Many passengers are arriving on connecting flights from other parts of the world, and then they come here, so that makes it more of a challenge.”
So, a couple of dozen well funded and well trained terrorists get on airplanes and destroy the World Trade Center and mess up the Pentagon, etc. This makes us consider more carefully the threat of terrorists attacking the US. We set up draconian laws and expensive systems that have the net effect of measurably removing freedoms for Americans, annoying people in other countries, and nudging us closer to a police state than ever before. We’ve even closed the border with Canada to anyone without passports, and even there, US and Canadian citizens can no longer assume they can freely travel back and forth. We fly drones over villages in other countries and blow people up (It’s OK, they were all bad) and we keep closer track of everything all the time everywhere than ever before.
But we can’t tell where a person getting off an international flight originated? Wut? I would have thought that would be the number one thing that would be implemented as part of the Homeland Security Upgrade. First thing.
Homeland Security in the US, the biggest shiniest newest system on Earth, fails the Ebola test.
In some ways, that is actually a bit comforting. But it is also terribly annoying.