Technology is fantastic, it helps us in some quite unimaginable ways but reliability is a bit frustrating at times….. PCs crash, get infected, have component failures and, worst of all, suffer from a lack of real intelligence. The human mind is much more adept at recognising wrong things/information/puzzles and solving them, sometimes instantly, without conscious effort (see example below).
It really is amazing how good the human mind is at solving the things that technology cannot at this moment in time.
The other thing that is remarkable about the mind, is the capacity to remember things such as places, local facilities, local topology, mental images of the area and relationship to nearby places. These points underline the ability that we all have to deal with problems and our capacity to solve them in a variety of different ways all with a successful outcome.
Yes, we all rely on technology but when it fails, we usually have the ability to get round the problem and get that faulty ‘technical aid’ fixed. Generally that’s what technology is for us ‘an aid’, as soon as we rely on it wholeheartedly, we start losing the skills to do the task ourselves.
So, why the preamble? …….. Well, in closing 50% of HM Coastguard Rescue Centres, the Government is banking on technology replacing people and having a cheaper service with less trained staff in the service.
A UK Central Maritime Operations Centre will be the way forward to automation of the HM Coastguard service with a heavy reliance on technology to fill in the gaps and provide many of the answers to emergencies. Useful technologies such as automatic GPS enabled VHF communications sets, Automatic identification systems fitted to vessels/navigation aids/rescue craft, ship & shore radar beacons, radio beacons and, of course, maritime GPS systems.
These technologies when integrated into HMCG in house computer modelling for tide, weather & conditions along with historical databases and a huge catalogue of place names should make quite a sophisticated control & monitoring system.
However, there are justifiable fears about this over-reliance of technology:
- You need trained experienced staff, who understand the whole maritime picture and can act independently of technology.
- You cannot have every place name logged, when many are place descriptions only known locally, so by keeping data local with regional staff, place recognition is faster.
- UK coastline is said to be 20,000 miles long & is quite diverse in conditions and local features which vary immensely during different tide/weather.
- UK coastline hazards are changing on a daily basis and only regionalised centres can keep up to date with events.
- All existing centres have a close relationship with the rescue assets that they call upon.
- Human local observation can assess situations faster, recognise dangers and take actions to avert any incidents in the first place.
- There is a delay in data updates which can increase with distance due to many parameters. Similarly relaying information from one end of country & back again can add vital seconds.
- Technology is a help when it is working & useless when it is not, much relies on all sea users to utilise this equipment, when we are still struggling to get some people to wear car seatbelts – which is law! Wearing of lifejackets is often ignored, so how can you enforce the use of technology safety devices?
- All the technology has accuracy limits & cannot be relied upon in isolation, even maritime regulations recognise this:
Rule 5 Navigation Rules and Regulations
Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means [including radar] appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.
There are still collisions at sea every year in the UK, which remind us that technology alone cannot ensure that sea/coastal users are safe. Over reliance in technology in today’s use of GPS navigation for road users, serves as another reminder of how this can get us into trouble, and marine navigation is considerably trickier with the constant changing of channels & depths.
Recent events highlighted by the Costa Concordia disaster demonstrate the difficulties that can arise from navigation hazards. Modern highly sophisticated cruise ships like this one are designed to be able to cope with even the worst situations, however things went wrong and none of the inbuilt safety features or technology prevented the ship from capsizing with tragic consequences. The exact nature of failure will eventually be determined at the conclusion of the ongoing investigation.
The mark 1 eyeball combined with the human brain are extremely effective tools for experienced & fully trained officers and can be complemented by the correct use of technology.
There needs to be a methodical, progressive approach to technology advancements in the world’s best coastguard rescue service. I welcome any technology that aids maritime safety, but would never agree to it replacing the skill, knowledge, dedication & resourcefulness of our front-line coastguard officers.
Written by Coastal Joe