Appreciate our invisible parallel world

In this final article for 2012, I want to share my observations about a couple of events that I find interesting. At first glance both appear to be totally unrelated, and they are, but both also have quite a lot in common.

I want to begin by talking about the amazing ceremonial processions such as coronations, funerals and weddings. The public gathers in huge numbers to watch in delighted wonder.

The splendid parade often comprises innumerable groups of different but equally magnificent troops accompanying the official vehicles carrying the men and women who are the reason for these events.

The whole show appears to function as if by magic. It almost seems like a single organism moving perfectly forward. Not a step out of place, not a discordant note.

My second spectacular event is one that occurred in Melbourne a few months ago – in the city's Burnley Tunnel.

This was the day that virtually the whole of Melbourne's traffic ground to a halt. From the beginning of the morning peak hour rush to the return of afternoon traffic heading home, there was chaos, traffic jams and unbelievable gridlocks everywhere.

Those who tried to avoid the tunnel found that the side streets had already been swamped with like-minded drivers. 

In the end there was no other solution than to sit in resigned patience coupled with simmering rage that such a monstrous event could have occurred. The cause of the chaos was the failure of the tunnel's electronic equipment leading to a total shutdown of the tunnel.

Both stories serve as just two examples of the fact that virtually all of our modern world's activities, events and projects – large or small – are underpinned by an almost 'invisible parallel world' of expert professionals.

These engineers, logistics managers, IT technicians, instrumentation and control systems analysts to name just a few, design, plan, implement, maintain and coordinate much of our comfortable 21st century lives.

This 'parallel world', at its best, functions so smoothly that we simply take it for granted and our lives almost resemble those participants of processions who never take a step out of turn. And of course this is exactly what happens most of the time.

It is only on those very rare occasions when something goes drastically wrong, as in the Burnley Tunnel, that we come face to face with the reality that our seemingly well ordered lives are 'normal' only because there are people whose jobs it is to ensure that all systems are functioning like clockwork. And despite the very best efforts of highly skilled and intelligent people, these systems sometimes fail. 

I want to pay tribute to the countless technical and professional experts in all areas of industry sectors including a very substantial percentage from our own IC&A areas, who are responsible for giving us the luxury of enjoying the benefits that our modern world affords. While no one can prevent a major disaster happening, we can be very confident that this is the rare exception rather than the rule.

It now remains for me to wish every one of the readers of PACE a very happy and safe Christmas and New Year.

[Brett Simpson is President IICA.]

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