Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Control Rooms?

Notably absent from coverage of a FEMA response, or lack thereof, to recent hurricanes, has been any view of a control room. Apparently FEMA has no central nervous system it feels proud enough to show off, no Hollywood-style NORAD or Mission Control ala Houston.

Relief engineers don't huddle over monitors, tracking the progress of this or that mobile relief convoy, with a big screen up front sharing overview. Nor do we see such centers on TV when disaster strikes around the world, e.g. in Pakistan or Guatemala.

TV news rooms come closer, give a sense of a high tech hub receiving reports from journalists around the world. The evening news is a tip of the iceberg sampling of top stories, but there's a sense of thousands more hours going to some archive for later retrieval and review.

But news rooms field spectators, watchers. The ethic of journalism is not to participate, but to report. In nervous system terms, news rooms receive pleasure and pain signals, but have no direct way to trigger a motor response. We hope other control rooms get the message.

Of course a lot of control and situation rooms don't get much TV exposure. Demolition engineers punch up real time satellite imagery, video feed from drones and so on and battleships have their bridges. When it comes to command and control, Pentagon style, wreaking havoc is the name of the game. Our script writers and scenario planners tend to be apocalyptic and/or vengeful in their thinking, anxious to fight human enemies, not weather, earthquakes, fire, famine, drought or poverty.

World Game still takes a back seat to war games, in the fantasy lives of so many children, when they imagine what a safer, more secure world might be like. Control rooms focused on disaster relief and monitoring civilian infrastructure don't really enter their consciousness. Instead they dream of overwhelming fire power, missile defense, ray guns on orbiting space platforms, zapping Earth-bound terrorists on the run.

We have the technology to play World Game for real, but our thinking remains immature, stuck in yesteryear's science fiction. Not enough grown ups. Not a new problem.