Apr. 22, 2014

Korean Ferry Disaster..Tech vs. Common Sense

With the missing Flight 370 fresh in our minds, another tragedy takes center stage on the world scene with the sinking of the South Korean ferry.  As more information becomes available about the actions of the Captain and crew, a scenario unfolds showing us a degree of incompetence previously unheard of and only rivaled by the cruise ship in the Mediterranean and perhaps the Exxon Valdez. However, when that incompetence has cowardice and indecision added to it, the end result being unintended manslaughter, a whole new problem set surfaces. The real questions that now need to be answered are much more perplexing and far-reaching.  Has our technology advanced to the point that we have become complacent, where watching and depending on monitors has replaced the very human "gut instinct" and common sense approach to managing problems ?  I often reflect on how early aviators and seafarers with the use of a simple compass (or even wave patterns in the case of the Polynesians) were able to navigate vast distances and can only wonder if modern captains can do the same.  As drone technology continues to develop, one has to wonder if continuing to remove human instinct from the equation is really progress....or are we setting ourselves up for more un-intended disasters.  Even the search and rescue efforts have apparently been handled with confusion reigning supreme, for afterall, "these ships practically sail themselves..!" and since nothing can ever go wrong, why have contingency plans. The mainstream media has added to the turmoil, as they did with flight 370, by openly speculating about what was or was not done without any consideration for the consequences of said action should their suggestions be followed. One that was especially disturbing was the suggestion to cut holes in the submerged hull to extricate those trapped in air pockets.  If there were any air pockets, just where would that air under pressure go once the "pocket" was entered ?  Others say that the Korean culture of obedience led to the loss of many lives and that American kids wouldn't be that obedient ! That mindset of not following instructions during a crisis has likely led to more deaths from fires, hurricanes etc. than this particular case with the Koreans.

     In the end, we should learn from these tragedies and try and understand exactly what led to the end result. We should look at the problem, not as a maritime or cultural disaster, but perhaps as a complacency issue related to our growing dependence on computers and computer generated data and control. Corrective measures that include improved monitoring of any commercial craft as well as improving the lost art of using "common sense" should all play a part.