Does Someone Have to Die?

I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve seen and heard many things that make me wonder if there is any rational thought out there.  I know, I know, not a very positive statement, but I’m just looking at the examples.  Why do people wait until after a grave incident occurs before they start ‘planning’ for it?  How do we keep letting the ‘budget’ process get in the way of actually accomplishing anything?

I recently met with an agency to deliver their recent Globalstar purchase and the lunch discussion exemplified these processes.  Here’s what I mean:
Several years ago, we had been discussing satellite phones with a state agency and while they showed interest, they never committed to buying the phones.  When there was severe flooding that knocked out power and phone service in a wide swath of the state, covering numerous towns, we received an urgent call from the Director asking us to deliver phones immediately.  Wait, now?  We’ve been beating the drum on this for years and now we are supposed to risk our safety because of a lack of planning?  Now that the disaster has happened, you need a solution?  Isn’t that counter-intuitive?  I’m reminded of something about a horse and a barn door….

The agency I visited that has bought the Globalstar phones did so because of the lower price.  However there is an issue with coverage due to the degradation of the constellation.  Partial coverage is ‘good enough’ because they could not get the funding for Iridium which offers better service these days.  (This is not a slap to Globalstar, the constellation issues are well-known.)

So the ‘budget hawks’ are willing to accept a solution based solely on cost, regardless of the potential danger it presents to the users?  There has always been a major disconnect between those who approve the budgets and those who actually use satellite phones.  I once told a US Forest Service Park Ranger that the best way to get the guys sitting behind the desk in the state capital to ‘get it’ would be to drop them off in the middle of the woods in inclement weather with only a satellite phone.  It just seems so absurd to me that that is the measure that one needs to hypothesize in order to prove the need.  It makes about as much sense as making a provider who has been providing superb service re-bid the service each year.  Like most things in life folks, you get what you pay for.  Lowest price always means lowest service.

Being reactive to the communication needs of police, fire, FEMA, court officers, (whomever it is), potential life-saving equipment just doesn’t make any sense (as opposed to being pro-active).  Does someone have to die or get hurt before the budget can be adjusted?

If you are on a budget committee and think funding satellite phones is unnecessary, let me drop you off in the woods.  Maybe then you will get it.  I hope your organization has the proactive foresight to fund satellite phones where needed.  That way people are safe and you can stay in your nice cozy office.