Saturday, December 26, 2009

Disaster Relief

The science here is that healing is critical to life, and the call to practice healing arts is one many seek to follow. Providing opportunities to serve, in roles for which one is trained, has competence, is one side of the equation. Other objectives: field testing of new practices & procedures, product placement, brand loyalty.

Cast in these terms, "answering the call" may sound idealistic and therefore perhaps too unrealistic. Some disaster relief goes on of course, but as Katrina-Rita well demonstrates, political systems may be reluctant to see disaster relief as as a primary leadership responsibility, even domestically (not that all agencies are equally dysfunctional).

The military on the other hand, does have call answering responsibilities, with war a kind of man-made disaster. The competencies may be different, in having a goal to inflict pain on some enemy. When it comes to providing opportunities for service in disastrous circumstances, we have that in this case. National guard recruiting commercials make that clear.

In our global university context (another metaphor for Spaceship Earth), the pain of war is self-inflicted. Reorienting to "save our ship" is equivalent to seeking a more sustainable security.

Military personnel are expected to test armaments, wave the flag, thereby providing ammo to arms bazaar merchants when hoping to impress the VCs (or procurement officers as the case may be). If you're marketing a new weapons system, you need to show off what it can do, persuade that it's deadly. It's called "the theater" for a reason. Witness Panama.

Back to the doctors and their mission, you also want opportunities to test new technologies and techniques, not because you seek to inflict pain, but because you wish to ameliorate it. You have your theater as well. You're a health care professional with duties and responsibilities, skills. Big pharma, other vendors, ply you with free samples, pump advertising to the LCDs, creating expectations and demand. These are similar to the pressures in the defense industry.

The hunger to serve is ingrained, as is the recognition that one needs to match jobs with skills. If a job becomes impossible for some reason, the institution itself needs to adapt, by inventing new roles. No one needs to wear the title of Superman (or Iron Man) in Afghanistan. Clark Kent gets the day job, not his alter ego.

In the aftermath of Katrina
, we saw a lot of military logistics capability standing by on the sidelines, frustrated. North Americans don't trust an armed force of a federal nature in their states, except on bases (in forts), have their national guards at state level.

I recall Lara Logan from CBS interviewing some commander on the ground, in New Orleans after Katrina, asking what was taking so long in the face of all this suffering. Was this commander with the Army Corps of Engineers? I don't remember the details, except that he shared her frustration. Defending one's homeland needs to mean something real.

In the aftermath of the tsunami in South Asia (five years ago today), you had militarily trained personnel doing full time disaster relief, and loving it in many cases. Helicopters were relevant. Storytellers in the media communicated the higher troop satisfaction levels. The body politic back home was on board with this also. This is way better than hitting the kids with bombs, don't you think? We had some consensus.

What's sorely lacking from these disaster relief scenarios are quick deployment solutions, crack teams of disaster relief workers, backed by the full faith and credit of our housing and food service industries.

Geodesic domes would not be out of place here, or maybe we're just deploying shipping containers, especially designed for this work. Prototypes abound. Getting these things off the drawing board and into the field takes skills and hard work. Here's an expense we might justify.

These are life skills, our progeny learning them. Work/study is both training and serving. The tools at hand needn't be Neolithic, assuming we keep our skill sets intact. The opportunity to use higher tech is tremendous, but will require overt focus and design.

Compassionate engineering is not an oxymoron, nor is it anti-profitable (anti-wealth creation). On the contrary, if your company isn't helping with healing, then aren't you risking your brand? Ditto flag, religious icon. Being on the right side of history counts in the market place of ideas. Ben & Jerry's has done some good work... Newman's Own. Let's take stock.

I was just perusing Grunch of Giants again, Fuller at his best, really pithy. As caretaker of the domain name, I should do that every so often.

Fuller was saying back in 1983 how there'd be a postponement of national insolvency for long enough to rearm, even though Grunch had sufficient funds to just buy the gear outright. By now, some decades later, we find ourselves with a lot of the wrong tools, vast parking lots full of unused armor, the work of a million man hours that might have applied otherwise (opportunity cost concept).

We're saddled with nerve gases in need of incineration, inventories of terrible weapons requiring destruction, with growing obesity and a dependency on trucked processed foods cutting into life expectancy in so many zip code areas.

If the patient (humanity) wants to survive, we'll see more evidence of that fact soon. Where's the move to stop wreaking havoc and to start using the available tools for healing purposes, adding new ones per the feedback cycle just described?

This impulse will be coming from the military as well, as we're talking about primal security matters.

The situation is bleak, dire, yet worth looking at. Having human beings give their conscious attention to this matter of healing the Earth, availing of opportunities to serve, is definitely an appropriate response here. The sense of urgency is widespread. The global climate change debate is but one manifestation of that sense.

The victory here would be for the patient, the student body. It's not a matter of figuring out which ideology has lost. People have their various mythologies about what's going on, their internalized global models. Diversity in this realm is to our advantage. Yes, I'm preaching "live and let live".

Neither the "warring religions" theme, nor the "science versus religion" theme needs to so preoccupy our attention that we forget to sew seeds for tomorrow's harvest. Religions great and small teach forward thinking, planning, aligning to calendars, adhering to values more likely to pay off.

Yes, they're also sometimes conveyor belts for misinformation, as have been so many of the pseudo-sciences (with more of those in the pipeline). In hindsight, we see ourselves deceived in our beliefs, again and again. Skepticism and a determination to do one's own thinking: these are virtues in both the spiritual and engineering worlds (as if there were two).

Given we need all the help we can get, we welcome whatever constructive teachings the various religions and sciences might offer. Apocalyptic mindsets abound and may not be the most responsible ones out there. Be choosy, exercise discrimination (not a bad word, when applied to ideas).