Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Surfing the internet

You know how I surf the internet sometimes? I spent some time doing that today. It all started with one of those Disasters of the Century show which had a segment on the Hinton train collision (which I remember, sort of). So I looked that up on Wikipedia, and then I browsed some railway disaster pages... and then I started looking at other disasters.

I ended up reading about the Iroquois Theatre fire, of course about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and others.... in many cases, there were inadequate or hidden exits, or the doors opened the wrong way. Things like this don't happen too often here now, but they still happen in other countries. For example, there are many, many examples of theatre fires in China.

From there (thinking about fire creeps me out a bit, so I went on to other topics), I looked the sinking of the SS Eastland. The boat was of top-heavy design and when people boarded it for a company picnic, it just turned on its side while still tied to the dock. That doesn't happen often these days because ship design has changed. But really, who thought a top-heavy boat would be a good thing in the first place? Seriously - I sometimes wonder if sometimes these things happen because no one asked the obvious questions - like, "will a top-heavy boat be stable?"

As an aside, my manager (back when I was working) was of the type to not ask those questions. I never did understand that.... but having done all this reading, I'm very happy that he doesn't do anything that could end up killing people.

From that, I moved onto building collapses. Like the Sampoong department store building collapse. It collapsed because the building was designed to be an office, not a shopping centre, and some of the changes to the building's purpose resulted in removing support columns, weakening the structure. And then, later on, they added an extra floor... plus heavy airconditioners, that the original structure had never been designed to support. Plus substandard building materials were used. What were they thinking???? Any one of those poor decisions would have been bad... but compounded, they're horrific.

Moving on.... to a variety of collapsed buildings in Egypt. They happen all the time. Seriously. Buildings are condemned but never taken down, and worse, extra stories are added on top of foundations never designed to take the weight... even if they were designed for it, the right materials might not have been used in construction, and public officials are paid to look the other way. It's bad enough when these are residential buildings... but it happens with commercial buildings and factories, too.

It's just so hard to believe that in this day and age, people are dying because of very poor construction methods and materials. Just because that doesn't happen often here - although it does happen occasionally - doesn't mean that it's ok for it to happen anywhere else. Too often, shortcuts are taken to save money for one reason or another, without anyone thinking of the consequences.

Note that Egypt isn't the only place with building problems; in China, there have been many, many theatre fires. In parts of Bangladesh, factories often collapse. In India and other places, bad things like fires happen on overcrowded trains. So many of these disasters have come from too many people using woefully inadequate services in addition to inadequate construction methods.

Many of these disasters have give rise to better design, engineering, and construction practices being implemented. Sometimes it takes a big disaster to make people realize that what worked before doesn't work anymore... If only that lesson would find its way to countries where money trumps human life.

I hope you don't think I'm being especially morbid, here. There is something compelling about reading about them, kind of the same way that train wrecks or car accidents are compelling. And of course I wanted to give you an example of the kinds of internet surfing that I do - I talk about surfing the interweb a lot, but that's not the same as talking about the kind of surfing that I'm doing.

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