Saturday, December 10, 2011

The human condition – could do better

Balfour Beatty (BB), the main contractors for the building of the Hindhead tunnels, won the hearts of more than 99% of people living in or around Hindhead for their superb organisation and execution of the almost £400m civil engineering project. Less than 1% of local people set up STOAT, Save The Old A Three, to spread doom and gloom about the scheme, to forecast death, destruction and disaster. They pointed out that when a truck or two blew up in the tunnel, everybody would die, die, die.

BB explained the unbelievable safety systems, evacuation plans and emergency scenarios they had thought up and planned for. They even blew up a lorry in the tunnel to test their systems! Nobody died. “Nothing,” they said, “could possibly go wrong.”

Philip Hammond, flamingo-faced Transport Minister, cut the ribbon and the traffic rolled. For the frst time, peace, oxygen and predictable travel times arrived. We looked upon BB’s mighty works and wondered.

Last week the tunnels closed for four hours. Traffic chaos ensued. Ordinary people were trapped in their cars for hours. Polish articulated trucks, driven by Satnav, tried to drive through the Punch Bowl. What BB described as a “Once in a century” event happened. Liphook became an inland island. STOAT hired skywriters to emblazon “WE TOLD YOU SO!” over the heavens. When the hysteria abated, Enquiries were launched. These would ensure that such a thing “could never happen again.” Where have I heard that before?

It was a power cut!!! Bad weather cut the power. The emergency generators failed too! The tunnels were closed for safety reasons! This was, apparently, a very, very, very unusual, completely unforeseeable, event. We spent £400m and no-one thought the power might go off!

This is the thing of it, of course. We humans think we’re really good at stuff, that we’ve cracked it, that we can do it. But we aren’t. We haven’t We can’t.

We’re human and, therefore, not half as good as we think we are. Reality gets my vote. Not hubris.

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