Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Exit Strategy

Operating a tracked skid-steer machine recently, gathering trees into piles, reminded me of a subject that gets too little attention: the exit strategy. 

The Cat model I was using is fully glass-enclosed, including heavy mesh guarding the side windows. It has a lot of safety features that make sense, many of which are aimed at preventing the operator from getting crushed.

It's front-entry, with a door that will open only if the lift arms have put the tool on the ground, level and lowered. That's because the loader bucket on the lift arms will block the door from opening more than a few inches if the controls haven't put the tool in a fully level and lowered position. 

And many emergencies might kill the engine in use, and keep the lift arms from reaching the rest position: sliding down a slope, or rolling over in a creek, or an engine fire. 

How to get out? There's an "egress window" behind the operator's seat, which can be dislodged by tugging on a lanyard. While much smaller than the door, it's big enough for an operator to slip out. In case of a fuel fire, which could put a wall of flame across the rear exit path, I'd be inclined to smash the front window and get out that way.  

A concept that stuck with me in the sinking-helicopter escape class was the need to look at escape options immediately on entering a helicopter, an airliner, or a building: meaning, before any sign of emergency. Once things start to go wrong, there probably won't be time.