Thursday, January 6, 2011

When calamity strikes, authorities falter and show 1.0 behaviour

A big fire at a storing and packing plant for dangerous chemicals held our little country spellbound yesterday. Photo's and video's show billowing clouds of thick black smoke and fireball explosions.

All day the question everyone asked was of course: how toxic was the smoke and should we all upgrade our life insurance policies? I am glad to say the authorities measured the air quality constantly and there was no danger to the public. Those living in the path of the smoke cloud should however keep their windows and doors closed. Oh, and due to the rain that began falling it was advised to keep pets and cattle indoors as the particles brought down by the rain might stick to the paws of furry and feathery friends and cause illness. Also it was advised to clean shoes before entering a house should you have to go outside. But there was no danger to the public.

Meanwhile the crisis website that was set up for just such calamities and should be able to handle 10 million hits every 5 minutes was down. The municipality where the fire raged has a Twitter account but it was strangely quiet. Information about the toxic cloud was sketchy and bolstered by rumours and inconclusive results from fire department measurement teams.

The fire is now doused. There is no more toxic smoke billowing and so all is well that ends well. Ends well? Let's wait and see. I am very curious to see if no strange and unaccountable diseases start springing up in the vicinity of the fire in the coming years. I am also curious to see how our government is going to handle this affair.

Because if no health risks ensued from the burning of these stored chemicals why is the disposal of these same chemicals such a big problem? Burning them seems a great solution, right?

Twitter was buzzing yesterday and so were the comment streams on various news sites. People felt they were lied to by the authorities. Or at the very least treated like little children. Tell the truth, many wrote. Even if the truth is that you don't know. I wonder how much WikiLeaks and other Internet bell ringing affairs have educated the public but not the authorities. I wonder at how little the authorities realise that the public is much wiser these days and the old ways of 'behind closed doors government' may not work anymore.

The way the authorities handled the information stream yesterday during a local calamity proves that they are thoroughly 1.0 in a world that is speeding towards the upgrade from 2.0. Open government may not be what politicians want but just as our - the humble citizen's - privacy is dead, so is the ivory tower of government crumbling. They better learn to rule with open visor quickly.

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