01 July, 2005

Disasters 'R Us

After some particularly nasty storms a couple of years ago, the City Council announced the construction of a Disaster Co-ordination Centre in order to deal with future emergencies. This was due for completion at the end of last year.

There were a couple of basic flaws in the plan to begin with - one was that the centre, designed to be manned by two dozen phone and computer operators during emergencies, was only going to use volunteers. That by itself raises a few problems (what if no volunteers show up, access to secured systems/facilities, etc), but the real fun began once the Engineering division got into the act.

They looked at their million-dollar budget, went "Woo-hoo!" and began designing a building without worrying about any of the piddly little details such as infrastructure, communications, planning, and so on. Ninety percent of the budget later (and six months past the completion date), the result is a functionally complete but operationally useless building. When it was pointed out to Engineering that there needed to be some money left to provide something more than just a building, they compromised by offering to tell whoever submitted a tender that they needed to bring the price in a couple of hundred thousand dollars lower. Expect a quality construction project.

The centre was conceived as having direct lines of communciation with emergency services on dedicated landlines. But then money started getting tight, and they fell back on Plan B - a microwave link. The problem with that was that the Disaster Centre site had no useful line-of-sight anywhere, and negotiations were carried out with a developer to allow Council to install a microwave dish on top of a building the developer was seeking approval for. The developer agreed, everyone was happy ... and then the Cuty Council approved construction of an even taller building between the Disaster Centre and the building with the microwave dish. Presumably negotiations with this second developer haven't been carried out in quite the same spirit of cooperation, as Council is now trying to ask a local hospital very nicely if they can install, free of charge, a microwave dish on the hospital roof.

Presumably this is a precursor to approving another high-rise between the Disaster Centre and the hospital.

In the latest development, Council has "found" another half-million dollars in its budget to get the Centre back on track (Engineeering: "Woo-hoo!"), although tentative queries to infrastructure vendors have been met with "That won't even cover the cost of the materials we'll need".

So, to summarise, the plan to date is for a hollow shell of a building manned by volunteers, with no means of communication with the outside world.

"But wait!" as they say in the classics, "that's not all!"

The Disaster Centre has no UPS installed because it would cost money, and because "we already have a generator". During yesterday's flooding, they lost power and the generator failed. The solution was going to be to hire another generator, but the roads being cut by floodwaters put something of a crimp in that plan.

And back here, the project office enjoys a luxurious space on the top floor of the main building. Their ceiling leaked like a sieve, and one desk in particular suffered a steady stream of water that soaked the PC and drowned the paperwork.

The desk belonged to the project manager for the Disaster Centre.

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