A Call to Action

Sports stadiums filled the pages of CSE last issue, and as I'm writing this piece, football stadiums are on my mind again, but for much more somber reasons. As I tuned into Monday Night Football for the Chargers/Dolphins matchup, the pre-game segments were very different from usual, focusing not on football, but on the wild fires that were ravenously consuming homes across Southern California.

11/01/2003


Sports stadiums filled the pages of CSE last issue, and as I'm writing this piece, football stadiums are on my mind again, but for much more somber reasons. As I tuned into Monday Night Football for the Chargers/Dolphins matchup, the pre-game segments were very different from usual, focusing not on football, but on the wild fires that were ravenously consuming homes across Southern California. In fact, Qualcomm Stadium, where the game was supposed to have been played, served instead as a refugee camp. Sights like this tend to make one pause, and I did. I wanted to watch the game for purely selfish reasons: to see whether I'd win my fantasy football match that week—something I'd been sweating, trivially, for two days. But seeing the rampant destruction made me realize how truly lucky I am.

In fact, I think it's not uncommon for most of us to take our personal and property safety for granted. And too often we tend to distance ourselves from the tragedies of others—intellectually, but not emotionally recognizing such situations. I confess I did just that a week prior, as news of another deadly fire filled the pages of Chicago newspapers. For those of you not familiar with the story, six people were killed last month from smoke inhalation in a fire in a downtown office tower. The building was not sprinklered, nor were stairwells pressurized—and perhaps most tragically, no mechanisms were in place to unlock the stairwell doors that effectively trapped the office workers in the smoke-filled stairwell.

My immediate reaction was to get a news story out. And again, for selfish reasons, I was hoping some city official would bring up the need for the city to amend its fire code to make sprinklers mandatory as it would make for a more interesting story. But reflecting on both incidents and a pair of recent industry events where life-safety shortfalls—again, blaringly shone forth—made me decide that I need to become more involved. In the past, some readers have made it known that I should keep politics out of engineering discussions. This is a delicate matter, but I think engineers, in good conscience, can no longer remain silent, and that also goes for myself as a communicator of engineering matters. It's time to put pressure, as a community, on politicians, locally and nationally, to push for better life-safety measures—and that means more than just sprinklers.

Last month, in our codes update, I noted that arc flash protection is a hot issue. Recently, I attended a symposium on industrial grounding where this issue came up, and not surprisingly, many of the plant operators in attendance were in great opposition to a number of changes already on the books. I also recently conducted a roundtable discussion on this summer's historic blackout (online at csemag.com ), and something that came through loud and clear was a need for engineers to re-think how they design emergency power systems (in that many generators don't perform for as long as they need to). In all of these matters cost and education are the greatest obstacles. Here's where politicking comes in. Our legislators must be the first ones we educate, and frankly, lobby, as they have the power to make legal changes and provide critical funding. We have the power to bring such matters to their attention. Let's use it.





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