Life in the Land of the Lame Horse Pub

 

Had it not been for Ian in Hamburg, one of my dependable conduits for news of the quirky, the bizarre and the occasionally unbelievable, I would have missed recent events in Duisburg, an old-fashioned German steel town with the world’s largest inland harbor.

Eager to spiff up his town’s image while taking advantage of music fans’ willingness to part with their Euros, the Mayor of Duisburg, Adolf Sauerland, pursued and won the right to host Love Parade 2010. Originally held in Berlin in 1989, the dance music festival was moved to the Ruhr region in 2007. Concerns about size, safety and security had led to cancellation of the event in some years, and in 2009 the city of Bochum refused to grant permits, fearful they would not be able to cope with the crowds.

It was at that point Mayor Sauerland made his move. “It was Sauerland’s big thing,” said Johannes Pflug, a Social Democrat who represents Duisburg in the federal Parliament, or Bundestag. “He wanted to show that Duisburg could do it, that he could change the image of Duisburg. But now, after the tragedy, he is in a very difficult situation.”

Indeed he is.  By the time events sorted themselves out and the festival finally was brought to a close, 21 people had been killed and hundreds injured, crushed as thousands of revelers tried to flee the tunnel that was the only point of access to the festival.  As a timeline provided by Deutsche Welle describes it:

16:50: The event area is closed off due to overcrowding. An estimated 500,000 people wait outside the single entry point, a tunnel located on Karl-Lehr Street, unable to move forward or go back to the station. Police begin asking people to turn back. People in the crowd are unable to see that the area behind the tunnel is closed off. Police were alerted to the potential threats due to overcrowding as people ignored directions to leave the area and instead continued attempts to enter the festival via the tunnel.

17:00: A bottleneck forms in the tunnel as people continue pushing forward. Simultaneously, others attempt to move in the opposite direction to return to the railway station. The air begins to thin and panic builds as some attempt to escape – to no avail.

Quoted in The Independent, Germany’s Der Spiegel revealed the Duisburg police and fire brigade had conducted a pre-festival study and concluded it would be unwise to make the tunnel the only access route to the Love Parade site. Their recommendation for several access routes was rejected, allegedly because of increased costs associated with policing the additional entrances.

Allegations of planning deficiences made by the Duisburg police and fire brigade were backed by the German police trades union. According to Der Spiegel, police security experts had “huge reservations” about the planning for the event.  Wolfgang Orscheschek,  Deputy-head of the regional police union, said the site chosen for the festival was far too small.  According to Orscheschek, “The city government was cornered by the organisers to such an extent that, despite the urgent warnings of the security experts, they could only say yes.”

As word of the tragedy spread, Chris Liebing, a German DJ and respected producer of Techno who releases on various music labels including his own CLR  issued a statement on Love Parade, excerpted here:

Over the years, the number of attendees has been rising, and so have the financial needs.  As costs were rising (city cleaning, etc.) so has the profit (for the community and the others involved). Suddenly there was a certain “image” attached, which brands could use to increase their value.

Looking back, it is actually a logical consequence… that an event like this would eventually fall into the hands of people who see “celebrating, dancing and having fun together” not as the main reason to host a Love Parade. This would still be tolerable, as long as human life would not be endangered, but what happened here is beyond anything one would have ever imagined.

It is absolutely appalling and shocking that the responsible organizers of the Love Parade and the city council in Duisburg have misused the “Techno Movement” with those fatal results. In their striving for image and profit, they have disregarded all measure of control and security and put people who really just wanted to celebrate, dance and have fun together in a situation in which 21 innocent persons had to die and countless have been injured and traumatized.

…The least we owe to those who have died and those who got injured is that we make sure that something like this won’t happen again in the future. New laws and rules won’t really help. We have seen that we can’t even trust those who should make sure that those rules are getting observed…To really change something, we have to start with ourselves…

Clearly, those who were responsible for seeing that rules were observed have a little explaining to do.  After attempting to blame the victims themselves by referring to “individual weaknesses” which led to the disaster, Sauerland increased people’s anger by denying that doubts had been raised about festival security. “I was not aware of any warnings,” he told the Rheinishen Post.

Nevertheless, it seems clear Sauerland lobbied on behalf of the Love Parade, sweeping aside doubts expressed by members of the city administration, the town council, police and fire brigade. The director of the Duisburg fire brigade warned in a letter to Sauerland that the area chosen for the event was “physically unsuitable”. Publicly-released minutes of a discussion between Duisburg city officials, the fire brigade and Love Parade organizers make clear the mayor “wished the event to go ahead, and that therefore a solution had to be found”.

Sauerland was not alone in his desire to keep the event on the calendar. Fritz Pleitgen, head of the European Capital of Culture Ruhr.2010 project exerted pressure on Duisburg to ensure that security concerns not lead to cancellation. The former Social Democratic Party (SPD) chair of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and its current prime minister, Hannelore Kraft, also insisted this “piece of youth culture” not be endangered.  Even more startling, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) MP Thomas Mahlberg recommended dismissing the Duisburg chief of police, Rolf Cebin, because of Cebin’s views that, “Outstanding security problems stand in the way of carrying out the Love Parade in 2010.”

Mayor Sauerland and Love Parade organiser Rainer Schaller have pointed fingers at the police, claiming a decision to open the western tunnel entrance led to the disaster.  Meanwhile, police accuse the organizer of employing too few and under-qualified security staff.  Not to be outdone, North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Ralf Jäger blames Schaller for not abiding by security guidelines, setting the scene for mayhem to occur.

One police chief based in the city of Cologne told the newspaper Express, “There were 12 to 13 local meetings in Duisburg. And every time we were united in our opinion that the planned concept would end in chaos with deaths and injuries… We were just informed time and time again, there was to be no discussion. City hall was of the opinion: The Love Parade has to happen.”

Reading accounts of what did come to pass in the wake of Duisburg’s seriously flawed planning process, I remembered other incidents awash in a toxic mixture of poor planning, inadequate inspection, lack of foresight, political pressure and official corruption.

The December, 2009 Lame Horse club fire in Perm, Russia was just such an event. For eight years the Lame Horse had operated as a fire-trap. A wooden ceiling, plastic sheeting and a plethora of dried twigs used as decoration, a single exit from a space capable of holding more than 400 people and the indoor use of fireworks – all were forbidden by local fire codes and other laws. Unfortunately, the laws never were enforced. After cold-flame pyrotechnics ignited the ceiling, the panic, confusion and smoke led to at least 113 deaths and 130 injuries.

Response was swift and direct. “There is a criminal levity toward life, one’s own and the lives of others, that prevails in this country,” says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. “There is a Russian attitude which we call ‘avos‘ (roughly meaning ‘que sera, sera‘) that led them to think, ‘Hey, we’ve been doing this for eight years and it’s always been OK. So why worry?’”

Alexander Fridman, a local entertainment producer in Perm, goes farther, asserting that official corruption must be factored into any explanation of the Lame Horse tragedy. “Fire inspectors found violations of the regulations a year ago, yet they didn’t come back to check whether corrections were made. Why was that?” he asks. “There were hundreds of people gathering at that club every night, yet they never closed it down. The basic lesson is that fire inspectors should not take bribes.”  Fridman is hardly alone in his assessment. Senior Russian officials acknowledge that fire inspections are routinely used as a way to demand bribes from establishments, rather than enforce safety rules.

Despite the distance of Perm and Duisburg from the Gulf of Mexico, it’s impossible to hear these stories of a Love Parade gone wrong and a desperately sad Russian nightclub fire without thinking of our current example of human error, casual arrogance and inattention to detail: Deepwater Horizon. 

All of the elements from the Duisburg and Perm tragedies are there to be seen in the Gulf oil spill: the finger-pointing, the refusal to take responsibility for decision-making, a dismissive attitude toward safety concerns, a willingness to place profit above the well-being of individuals and their communities, an acceptance of corrupt practices and a desire, however hidden, to blame the victims themselves.  In the words of Techno DJ Chris Liebing, “In their striving for image and profit, they have disregarded all measure of control and security.”  In the words of a friend on the Louisiana bayous, “They thought they could get away with it forever.”

In truth, there still are those who believe they will be the ones to “get away with it forever”.  And yet some have begun to pay the price, however minimal that price might be.  Adolf Sauerland, says Bjorn Munich, a 35-year-old Duisburg resident, would have been lynched had he attempted to attend the memorial service for the Love Parade victims.  No longer sleeping at home, he is described as a pariah, living in his office and protected day and night by the police.  Fearing for their safety, his family have left town.

As for BP’s former CEO Tony Hayward, he is heading off to the land of the Lame Horse Pub, a land where questionable safety practices, cozy relationships between business people and governmental officials and an acceptance of outright bribery is commonplace. He ought to feel right at home.

As a non-executive board member of BP’s Russia venture, Moscow-based TNK-BP, it has been suggested that “his contacts in the Russian government and with the Russian shareholders would serve him well.” It’s also worth noting this passing remark from a Business News report: “Most of TNK-BP’s 200 oil fields are situated far from open water in the Siberian tundra, although the company is looking to produce oil offshore in the Caspian Sea. The Russian government has never raised concerns about the safety of TNK-BP’s operations.”

In a final bit of irony, even as Mr. Hayward continued packing his bags for Russia this past weekend and Mayor Sauerland did his best to avoid showing his face in public, the huge festival known as WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance) was held in Wiltshire, England.  As expected, it was trouble-free. Prior to the event, festival organizer Chris Smith  said he doubted the Love Parade tragedy would be repeated. As he put it, “We take safety incredibly seriously in the UK. I think we have higher standards than anyone else.”

 

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Published in: on August 2, 2010 at 10:31 pm  Comments (19)  
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  1. You draw a very effective analogy. For many years I volunteered at an outdoor festival for mentally handicapped New Jerseyans. The event was held on a community college campus and, at its height, attracted 25,000 people. The organizers of that event, all volunteers, dazzled me with their attention to every detail that affected the well-being of the guests. As a result, the festival went on for 25 years without a single injury. Common sense. Responsibility. Knowing the answer to the scriptural question: “And who IS my neighbor?”

    Charlespaolino,

    Unfortunately, the analogies abound. I thought about BP while reading about Duisburg, but the first event that came to mind was The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island. While refreshing myself on that history I found reports about the Lame Horse, and the addition of Russia and frank corruption and bribery to the mix was irresistable.

    Over and over, the importance of the relationship of knowledge to will is critical. We know how to prevent such fires, such deaths, but may not be willing (as your festival organizers were) to act on that knowledge. BP had the knowledge to prevent the Macondo blowout, but was willing to cut corners. And far too often we do know our neighbor’s identity, but don’t have the will to act on their behalf.

    Linda

  2. Sometimes the word is a paintbrush in your hand, other times a magic wand – in this essay you are the Warrior Queen and the word is your sword. Powerful, very powerful.

    Evy,

    You and I both have done enough reading about Macondo and the Gulf to know that words alone are not enough. There are been plenty of people willing to pile up great heaps of words that are full of nastiness, misinformation and emotion without adding one lick of thought to the mix. There’s a time to rave (!) and vent. But we need to move on if we are to prevent such things in the future. No matter how awful a situation, playing the “ain’t it awful” game isn’t very helpful.

    I must say – Warrior Queen? That’s never been part of my self-definition, but from you it’s high praise, and I appreciate it!

    Linda

  3. Placing profit before people seems to be an ingrained part of human nature. There will always be a tiny faction of whistle blowers, those who feel responsible and try to take action to protect their community from from the wolves. There is a large group in the middle that behave like sheep. Ever willing to be fleeced over and over again. They really don’t support the whistle blowers because it means they may have to put themselves in the uncomfortable position of Taking Personal Responsibility. Although, they all show up for the lynchings as a faceless mob when really they are the ones responsible for not taking a stand in the first place.

    Then you have the wolves. They understand the sheep. They know they can band together to discredit or destroy the shepherds. So, they act however they wish to bring in more profit. Their one goal is to hoard money. They may have more than enough to live on, but it is never enough. Their sickness demands piles of gold. They infect the rest of society with it. They call anything less than wholesale mega-profit at any cost; “socialism”. OOOOH, bad, scary word.

    Safety. Workers Rights. Environmental Safety. Call it socialism and watch the trained sheep nash their little teeth.

    Now that the world has become proportionally smaller, the greed induced disasters are becoming larger. We had only just started to recover from the dot com bust when the money players invented another ponzi scheme involving mortgages. We haven’t recovered from that and now they are doing the same thing with food commodities. Anyone see a pattern of more lost jobs and preventable starvation with that one?

    And above all, dont forget to “Drill baby, Drill”.

    Bitter and cynical? You betcha.

    Nanette,

    It’s a complex situation, for sure. As a business owner, I want to make a profit. My profit has kept me in business for twenty years, paid my bills and supported what passes for my “lifestyle”. And, given the nature of my business – yacht refinishing – I’m all in favor of the people who employ me making a profit, too. Their profit is much larger than mine, but that’s what allows them to purchase boats and hire me to make them pretty.

    As a sole proprietor, I’m not faced with the issue of profit-before-people, unless I might be tempted to cheat my customers – which I don’t. On the other hand, none of the business people I know are in the business of sticking it to their employees, either. They’re also honest, trustworthy and danged hard-working, regardless of the nature of their business.

    It seems that trouble arises when the scale gets too large, when the relationship between business owner and employees moves beyond the personal. A large corporation, with multiple branches, a multi-layered management and impossibly complex regulations can very quickly degenerate into the kind of situation you posit: the 9-to-5 sheep, the greedy, demanding and corner-cutting management and the occasional hero/fool who stands up and says, “Uh… this (or that) isn’t right….”

    I do think part of what’s making a sensible discussion of these issues nearly impossible is a growing tendency to label people, refusing to allow for complexity in their views. For example, I happen to support an end to the drilling moratorium, but I also favor more than token movement toward alternative sources of energy and an end to corruption in the regulatory agencies in charge of these companies.

    In the same way, I would prefer not to live in a socialist democracy. And yet, there clearly is a role for government and organizations like unions to legislate and lobby on behalf of workers, particularly in areas such as personal and environmental safety. The unions weren’t able to prevent the conditions that caused my grandfather to have to leave the Iowa coal mines because of disability, but eventually they did bring safety improvements, higher wages and increased bargaining power – all good.

    Anyway – I hate to hear you say “bitter and cynical”, but I can understand it. If the BP disaster in the Gulf does any good, maybe it will be in the form of new alliances bridging some of the social, economic and political divides in this country. If things are going to improve, we’ve got to make that happen.

    Linda

  4. One also recalls the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history (nearly 500 killed).

    Al Cyone,

    I almost was “there” for that fire – but not quite. I was born in 1946, but I can remember many conversations about the fire when I was a child. My mother had a friend who had a cousin (?) who lived in Boston at the time. When something bad happened, Mom’s friend was given to saying, “Well, at least it’s not as bad as the Cocoanut Grove….”

    I happened across this site with remarkable photos while researching the Perm fire. A sad, sad event.

    Linda

  5. Chilling to read of these separate events.
    And to realize what a powerful snake is greed.
    And to see, ultimately, how all such events really tie together.
    And sad to see that history sometimes teaches us nothing, or, at least, teaches BP nothing.

    We cannot outrun the obvious rules of physics nor ignore the randomness of nature.

    It’s good, it’s important, that people are watching; not only watching out for one another but keeping an eye on the movements of “money.”
    I continue to hope that there are so many unnamed others working to move us forward, finding (green and humane) solutions to problems. And that we all stay aware.
    And care.
    And get the word out.

    And for bringing news (and awareness) of stories I would surely otherwise have missed, thank you, Linda.

    oh,

    Very little amused me in the weeks following the Macondo blowout, but I did find myself smiling from time to time at the politicians and bureaucrats who hadn’t yet learned the lesson you point to: that we can’t outrun physics, or ignore the randomness of nature. We live in a real world, a world of rock and water, earth and oil, and sometimes, when we push, that world pushes back.

    You can’t bully a mountain, or send a directive to a river. You can’t threaten the clouds or bribe a salt dome, and you could see the frustration from time to time as people accustomed to being in charge were absolutely stymied by forces beyond their control.

    On the other hand, people who chose not to exercise control when it was within their right and ability to do so seem to have been at the heart of this tragedy. Calling the death of eleven people, the loss of a rig, the pollution of the Gulf and the dislocation of entire populations a “cost of doing business” is more than criminal.

    It will be up to all of us to keep following events, insisting on accountability and demanding accurate information. BP’s quite public and unabashed attempts to buy the silence and testimony of scientists is a bit of a clue that they will do what they are forced to do, and no more. The forcing may be up to us.

    Linda

  6. I feel this is your most powerful entry I’ve read to date and very well done. I wonder what Mr. Hayward’s total compensation will be in his new position. That also will be a powerful message in his corporate culture.

    Greed and the inevitable evil results of it will continue to be a reality of human existence in any foreseeable future. Your words point towards the need for personal responsibility to combat it.

    At the most basic level, personal responsibility is the awareness of one’s own immediate physical environment. In the nightclub examples, it would lead one out of a dangerous situation. At a broader level we also need to assume personal responsibility for ensuring that those charged with defining our safety and quality of life and those charged with enforcing those definitions can and are doing their jobs. At the highest level we can also take personal responsibility for motivating our fellows to take these responsibilities, too. Your words earn 100% on that highest level.

    Words I would add are, “Never trust anyone who tries to make ‘activist’ an insult.”

    LowerCal,

    I like your addition, with one caveat: that abrasiveness, spiteful behavior and contempt for those who differ from us do not an activist make. Granted, a little abrasiveness, some well-expressed contempt and even a little street theatre may be useful tools in the armamentarium, but there have been more than a few activists who haven’t helped their causes one bit by demonizing their opponents.

    Now, on the other hand, a little more activism and a little less passivity generally would be a good thing. Active involvement in life – curiosity, a willingness to commit to a cause or relationship, a conviction that long-term goals are worth short-term sacrifice – all of those increasingly are in short supply. As a society, we’ve been trained toward passivity for years. “Fat” and “dumb” have become hallmarks. I suppose “happy” is still up for grabs.

    As for personal responsiblity, it’s always there, to be accepted or rejected. I suppose learning that it doesn’t have to be a burden is part of what we call “growing up”.

    I try to be responsible about my words, too. Your 100% means a good deal.

    Linda

  7. Just read “Altamont Free Concert” article on Wikipedia. Waiting in the ticket line-up in Vancouver for the movie “Gimme Shelter”, an Hawker was offering LSD. I sat through the movie straight and thanked my stars – Some “sadder and wiser” Rolling Stones go over the events towards the end.

    Fast forward about forty years to Salvador, Brasil, Carnival. I’m a 6’4 carpenter (reasonably fit) and I was pushed down in the press of people. There was not panic or reason to worry at the time, just too many people crowded into too small of a space. Throw in some full tilt heavy percussion and sponsor’s awful beer and you’d be best advised to consult the Brazilian Police for crowd control.

    Next morning the fire department tankers wash it all down into the Atlantic.

    Ken,

    Several years ago I had my own experience of too many people in too small a space, at Galveston’s Mardi Gras. Fats Domino was the featured entertainment, and he was performing from a balcony on the Strand. We were across the street on a corner, and as the flood of people poured in, it simply was too much. We backed out, and listened to the music from a slightly less crowded spot about a half-block away.

    Some people seem to enjoy the feeling of being “hemmed in”. I prefer a bit of space. I don’t mind garden-variety crowds, but you’d never find me at something like the Love Parade.

    Linda

  8. The Love Parade blame game goes on, with police, city and organisers all blaming each other. The mayor has still not resigned, saying to do so would admit responsibility for the catastrophe, and, oh yeah, he’d get a reduced pension if he resigned the office. Der Spiegel called it The Officially Approved Catastrophe. As usual, reading their site in English is the best way to find the facts of what’s going on in Germany. You did well to rely on them.

    Ian,

    Surely you’re not suggesting the good Mayor would allow monetary considerations to affect his decision about resignation? Or that any of the factions involved would prefer to lay blame at someone else’s doorstep? Of course not…

    I’ve been following Der Spiegel’s multi-part analysis of events online. It seems to be very well done – glad to have your confirmation that it’s a good source.

    And thanks again for your original post!

    Linda

  9. I like your addition, with one caveat: that abrasiveness, spiteful behavior and contempt for those who differ from us do not an activist make. Granted, a little abrasiveness, some well-expressed contempt and even a little street theatre may be useful tools in the armamentarium, but there have been more than a few activists who haven’t helped their causes one bit by demonizing their opponents.

    As you demonstrate, the label of “activist” has already been contaminated with a negative connotation handy for use in attacking an activist’s credibility. A true activist is someone active in digging for the facts and not passively accepting sound bites that support simplistic views. A true activist is someone who recognizes that responsible parties may need to be forced to do the right thing and is willing to act and motivate others to do the same. A true activist denies comfort in passivity to those around them. You madam, are an activist! ;^)

    LowerCal,

    Well now, isnt this something? Outed in my own blog. ;-)

    I keep finding reasons to remember this, by Jose Marti: “A genuine man goes to the roots. To be a radical is no more than that: to go to the roots. He who does not see things in their depth should not call himself a radical.”

    Linda

  10. Positive thinking has become a monster. We no longer listen to the experts when they try to warn us about impending catastrophe. We call them pessimists, doom-and-gloomers, or worse. Sometimes we shut them up and sometimes we fire them. We almost never listen to them, until it’s too late. Nightclub fires, soccer game stampedes, space shuttle explosions — the show must go on, especially if there’s a lot of money on the line and it’s the lives of other people at risk.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that you can almost never point to a disaster that was averted. With the possible exception of two airplanes flying too close together, a tragedy that didn’t happen because of prudent decisions is invisible. We don’t see the wisdom until it’s absent. But we need to rise above that sad fact. I agree with you completely. Thank you for shedding a lot of light onto this important issue.

    Charles,

    Clearly, we live in a time when the phrase “positive thinking” can serve as code for “denial of reality”. It’s common to hear individuals, corporations, governments and groups tell themselves, “It won’t happen, because it hasn’t happened” and grow complacent as a result.

    If you combine that with an environment in which “experts” have very little expertise – that is, experience gained over time in a particular field – it can be a lethal combination. The ability to make sound judgment calls in mission control, in an airplane cockpit or on a drilling platform isn’t gained solely from a book. The technical knowledge, as they say, is necessary but not sufficient. It takes much more – including the willingness to trust one’s own judgement and state one’s conclusions clearly no matter the cost – to make a sound call.

    In Duisburg and Perm and on Deepwater Horizon there were those who trusted their judgement and did speak out. Let’s hope next time the experts (or those responsible for cutting the costs and moving the timeline) are a bit more receptive.

    Linda

  11. As someone else mentioned, my first thought was of the Altamont Free Festival. The venue was moved at the last minute. Inadequate security among other inadequacies led to loss of life and injuries.

    Your analogy is point on, Linda. Profit at the expense of safety can always lead to loss of life or destruction of property/environment. What is tragedy to most is acceptable risk to others.

    Bella Rum,

    Isn’t that just the case. The phrases “collateral damage” and “cost of doing business” come to mind.

    It’s one thing for an “accident” to happen. It’s another to keep skating on the thinnest ice possible, calculating the odds of falling through. Consider this: in 2005, there was a terrible explosion at BP’s Texas City plant, just down the road from me. There were fines, lawsuits galore and they were put on probation – told to clean up their act, or else.

    In April and May of this year – while the Macondo well was still gushing – there was a malfuntion at that same plant. Some 500,000 pounds of pollutants including 17,000 pounds of benzene, were released. The release wasn’t made public until June 4, when a report was made to Federal regulators. Even Texas City’s Emergency Management Coordinator was kept out of the loop.

    Now, they’re lining up to join another class action suit against BP. Even if you make allowances for the ambulance chasing attorneys, residents hoping to make a quick buck and people who are just mad at BP generally, there’s enough substance here to make the suit a threat. Even if BP dips into that line-item in their budget called “lawsuit settlement fund”, there’s the issue of probation:

    Coming on the heels of the oil spill, the lawsuits add new woes for BP and may aggravate an old one: BP North America – the company’s refining division – is on federal probation for a felony environmental conviction related to the 2005 explosion, which also caused a massive release of benzene and other toxins. Any further violations could be grounds for prosecutors to ask a judge to revoke BP’s probation.

    Already, lawyers representing victims of the 2005 blast have said a court should revoke BP’s probation based on a complaint by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that BP has failed to comply with safety agreements it made after explosion.

    The company denies OSHA’s claims, and a hearing is scheduled for later this month.

    When it comes to BP, there’s another phrase that comes to mind. That would be “culture of corruption”.

    Linda

  12. Re: The Coconut Grove Fire. I remember as a child living outside of Boston (I was born in ’42) that the fire was often a topic of conversation. It led to banning the use of revolving doors there. It’s what trapped so many inside. In places where revolving doors are still in use you’ll notice that there are also regular doors on each side of the revolving door.

    I don’t know how things are in most parts of the U.S. but in the State of Florida ALL doors in commercial establishments are required to open OUTWARDS towards the street. Not here in Panama, though. Some open inwards others outwards.

    oldsalt,

    I’ve never thought about it, but you’re right – the few places where I’ve seen revolving doors recently, they’ve been banked by regular doors. And of course the same applies where there are automatically opening doors. No electricity, no way out without those standard doors. The last time I remember having to open a door inward to go outward, it was a very old building on a bayou – and crowds wouldn’t be much of a problem.

    I enjoyed revolving doors as a kid, and they do offer some advantages to other creatures as well. Years ago there was an upscale department store across the lake that had revolving doors. If I recall, it was a Saks. There still was a good bit of uncleared woods around, and one day a deer decided to cross the highway and go shopping. Somehow it got into the store through the revolving door. Mayhem ensued. Eventually, the poor creature was captured and returned to its woods, and the store tidied up. I can’t remember if they replaced the revolving doors.

    Linda

  13. A very interesting read, Linda.

    The quote from Chris Smith – “We take safety incredibly seriously in the UK. I think we have higher standards than anyone else” – is only true because we have learnt from experience.

    On April 15th 1989, 96 football supporters were killed, and over 250 injured, when they were crushed to death at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield during the FA Cup semi-final match, between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool. The crush is said to have resulted from too many Liverpool fans being allowed into the ground, resulting in those already in the ground being crushed against the high, wired-topped safety fences around the pitch. Apparently orders were given for the gates to the football stand to be opened and admit more fans, because they believed the pressure of fans outside the ground was “a danger to life”….. how right they were, but inside, not out of the football ground.

    Security and safety measures put in place since the tragedy means there hasn’t been multiple deaths at a sporting venue since.

    The risks and issues section in the health and safely laws of 1974 became so strict in the 90′s that teachers stopped taking children on visits and expeditions. Just to take a group of children out on a visit to a local park for nature observations required pages of form filling before leaving the premises.

    “Throughout history, health and safety laws have often been a response to appalling tragedies, and rightly so. If health and safety regulation is needed, it is important that it is proportionate and sensible. There is no doubt that rules are needed in many walks of life; the question is whether it is necessary to apply them quite so rigorously to everything we do.” – Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph.

    ‘Proportionate and sensible’ – so in other words, apply common-sense – something we seems to have lost the ability to do!

    Sandi,

    You know as well as I do that the increasingly litigious nature of our society, combined with a touch of old-fashioned busy-body-ness, can shove a whole lot of proportionality and sensibility right out the door.

    The other side of the safety coin is that “stuff happens”. It always has and it always will. Put 100,000 people in a too-small enclosed space, and there are predictable consequences that can be mitigated or eliminated with the right kind of (properly enforced) regulation. Take a clutch of second-graders to a park, or a museum, or a state capitol, and nothing’s predictable. No amount of paper signing is going to change that. So: eliminate adventures for children, or teach them they live in a real world that can bite sometimes? You know where I come down. ;-)

    I do things at work every day that probably wouldn’t be approved by the federal safety folks. As a matter of fact, I know I do. But I also know when to take proper precaution. The only accidents I’ve had in twenty years (that tumble off the pier, a varnish-filled brush dropped from the top of a mast and maybe a dozen spilled cups of varnish) wouldn’t even be on their regulatory radar. The word is: “accident”. They happen, and they get taken care of.

    Like the Macondo blowout, most real disasters – like the Sheffield match – are marked by a bad decision-making process. You can’t eliminate that with legislation or regulation, either. People have to want to abide by the rules – or be sufficiently fearful of consequences they abide by them anyway. ;-)

    Linda

  14. Linda,
    I loved this story you painted with your words. I agree with some of the above statements and that we need a lot more common sense in our leaders and our every day people. Then we need to throw in a big dose of personal responsibility.

    I am very nervous to be in really tight crowded spaces. Like you, I would have been a block away and comfortable rather than in the middle of a shoulder to shoulder crowd.

    The 3 stories of greed over safety were very fitting in today’s world. Thank you for sharing your story with us all.
    Patti

    Patti,

    I was thinking this morning about how important it was to us as kids to be given more and more responsibility. We wanted responsibility. It was something that was earned, and being responsible was pleasurable. Now, it seems as though every time the world “responsibility” comes up, it’s because something’s gone wrong and everyone is trying to prove that they weren’t the one responsible!

    I think the same thing has happened with common sense. Having common sense used to mean you could be depended upon, that you were practical and able to solve problems, that you weren’t “flighty” and were grounded in reality. Now? Not so much. I’m not sure what people mean when they speak disparagingly of common sense – I just know it isn’t good!

    All I know for certain is that a little more willingness to be responsible and a little more common sense could have helped to mitigate these disasters. Let’s hope we all learn something from the experience.

    Linda

  15. Horrific. What where they thinking, using a space that accommodates 250 thousand people when 1 million were expected to attend? And then having a 120m long tunnel as an entrance point.

    Those poor souls. You cannot help but play the scenario in your mind. The dark tunnel, the thinning air, no room to move – the stuff of nightmares.

    It won’t be last time either, sadly. It seems again, as with BP, that you trust those ”in charge” at your peril.

    Jeannine,

    As I heard someone say recently, “Competence isn’t the only reason someone ends up in charge”. And sometimes, even with the best will in the world and an honest desire to do the right thing, those responsible for decisions just don’t have what it takes to be in charge – including the willingness to stand up to those farther up the chain of command.

    Even worse, those who supposedly are “in charge” may not be the ones whose decisions determine final outcomes. For example, until Deepwater Horizon, how many people knew about the Minerals Management Service, or their laissez-faire approach to the permitting process? Live and learn, they say – but sometimes not everyone lives.

    Linda

  16. The three corrupt fruits you wrote of likely stemmed from three common seeds — the desire for power, riches and honor. As that old biblical wisdom-teacher once said: there’s nothing new under the sun — except for the names perhaps. Ironic that the festival goes by the name “Love Parade.”

    Janell,

    It’s a fact that greed doesn’t have to have money or wealth as its object. I’ve known people greedy for power, or for a “name”, and it isn’t particularly pretty. It’s interesting, in this age of Facebook and Twitter, to watch people strive for celebrity status, working to get their name and accomplishments “out there” with remarkable desperation. It’s not unlike living in a world of daily Christmas letters – and I don’t have to tell you what a few of those are about!

    The name “Love Parade” is a bit ironic. Equally ironic is that it calls up memories of a certain “summer of love”, which had its own sort of difficulties.
    Marketing love in any of its forms doesn’t usually go so well.

    Linda

  17. Too much greed, too little caution and caring–a story that is becoming increasingly common in our times.

    I did not know about this incident, but witness such events on the news every year in my country, India. Mostly stampedes at religious gatherings on festivals.

    Tragic.

    Damyanti,

    Isn’t that the saddest part – that every day, hidden away in a corner of the world most of us know nothing about, such things are happening. Perhaps the scale is smaller – or perhaps not – but they are tragedies, indeed. I can’t help thinking of all the stories I’ve heard of overloaded trains and ferries, too. Again, simple greed overcomes good judgement. You’d think we would learn.

    It’s so nice to see you. Thanks for stopping by, and for commenting.

    Linda

  18. I spent my career doing petroleum and chemical research and am retired from BP.

    We decided to research the possibility of moving “beyond petroleum” in the early 1980′s. We purchase Solarex Corp. to have photovoltaics in our portfolio. We built a totally solar powered gas station in West Chicago, Illinois. I was supplied an electric automobile for evaluation (it was crude but effective). We researched hydrogen as a fuel. We tried many things but had little luck. When Ford introduced the fabulously successful Explorer in the early 90′s we decided it was fruitless to continue our efforts, since our customers apparently had almost zero commitment to conservation. Our refining margins were slim then, gasoline was cheap and it was like “what the hell, let’s give ‘em what they want” and the rest is history.

    As long as our fellow citizens feel it is appropriate to live 50 miles from work and commute in an F-250 truck we are doomed. Try pushing a pickup truck by yourself to 20 mph and you will get a lesson in how much energy it takes to move a big vehicle. (I drive a tiny Honda, BTW) It is claimed that the availability of oil and electricity gives each of us the equivalent labor of 200 slaves. Ultimately coal, then oil, ended human slavery in the developed world. Airplanes for travel, motor boats for pleasure and big-rigs for goods transport (rather than trains) are equally, or perhaps more, unwise. It is said that “there is a limit to what a person can use but no limit to what he or she can waste”. Our profligate nature is about to make the world a very nearly uninhabitable place. God bless the children. So sad…..

    Bruce,

    I’ve been thinking a good bit about your comments, particularly that “there is a limit to what a person can use but no limit to what he or she can waste”. The entire question of sufficiency is rarely given it’s proper due, and the unfortunate tendency of some to lecture on the need for conservation of resources while building million-dollar mansions and flying about the world in private jets has led to a good deal of cynicism.

    I lived for a few years in Liberia, in an up-country hospital compound. We had two vehicles for everyone – a VW bug and a VW van. There was a sign-up sheet for each, and people shared rides. If someone checked out the van for a trip to the market, as many people as could fit went along for the ride. If someone went down to Monrovia, they willingly made purchases for others. It worked because people were committed to making it work, and because, in the end, everyone’s needs were met.

    I suspect I don’t need to describe for you how different that was from our situation here in Houston. Two hour commutes are common. A contributing factor in the horror that was the Hurricane Rita evacuation fiasco was the tendency for families to put one person in each of their vehicles and evacuate two, three or even four cars and trucks. Decisions in favor of mass transit that should have been made 20 years ago or more may never be made now, as politicians prefer to dither about with their light rail to nowhere. And, in the end, we’re remaining insistently selfish, asserting at every turn our right to make those 50 mile commutes.

    One of the most telling aspects of the entire Macondo well saga for me was the discovery of the concept of peak oil, and sites such as The Oil Drum.
    How I’d missed them I’m not sure, but I’m glad I found them. Whether we like it or not, changes are coming, and we’d best be prepared.

    Many thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comments.

    Linda

  19. Perhaps we need to teach our children to avoid massive crowds and be more attentive to potentially dangerous situations. The herd mentality takes over so easily that the individual is hardly aware he or she has lost their judgment.

    In every tragedy, such as you have described, it is almost always shown after the fact that some people had foreknowledge of the unsafe conditions, and did not act, were prevented from acting or were ignored. Yet, it must also be said that individuals need to make better assessment of the dangers they expose themselves to. Enormous crowds of hundreds or thousands of people are extremely dangerous places.

    Mike,

    You describe it perfectly – on the Deepwater Horizon rig and in the German streets, “some people had foreknowledge of the unsafe conditions and did not act, were prevented from acting or were ignored”. And there’s the rub. We may choose to avoid inherently dangerous situations like the Love Parade, but be unable to avoid, for example, the dangers inherent in a workplace.

    As I’ve continued to read The Oil Drum forums postings over these weeks, I’ve become more and more impressed by the discussions among oil-field pros on responsiblity and safety. The fact is that something went terribly wrong on that rig, something out of the ordinary happened, and it’s important to sort out what it was – at least to the best of the investigators’ ability. It occurs to me that you’re on target about the herd mentality taking over – even when the “herd” is a multinational corporation.

    Linda


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