October 11, 2004

Today my University is carrying out a Disaster Preparedness Exercise, simulating “campus and community crisis responses” in the face, I think, of a series of imaginary industrial explosions. The Physical and Atmospheric Sciences building was evacuated, but so, unfortunately, was Social Sciences. They didn’t do that one on purpose, though. Industrial accidents, even imaginary ones, seem much more likely to happen in PAS. The only chemical present in dangerously high quantities in Social Sciences is caffeine. Nevertheless the building has been shut down since 8am, the power is off, police tape is everywhere, guards are posted and fake victims with fake injuries seem to be wandering around. At least, I think the guy with the bandaged leg was faking. Maybe I should have given him a kick to make sure. From talking to the cops and listening to the radio chatter, my theory at the moment is that the power failed in Social Sciences, possibly as an accidental byproduct of the fake disaster, and now not only can they not figure out how to turn it back on again, everyone is so busy tending to fake victims and cleaning up non-existent industrial waste that there are no staff available to fix the problem. So, in effect, the hypothetical crisis has managed to generate a real one.

It’s just as well that it’s only an exercise. I was out in the parking lot with everyone else for an hour, waiting in vain to be allowed back in. It’s bad enough that we were all allowed to hang around by the doors, breathing in putative anthrax or notional dirty bomb fallout. But then a flatbed truck carrying large flammable and quite real gas cylinders came up the driveway and parked behind the fire engine to make a delivery to the chemistry department. About ten minutes after that, two forty-foot tractor trailers pulled in to deliver props and stage equipment to the Centennial Hall theater. They might have been full of anything. If the Trojan Horse itself arrived at the main entrance to the University today, I swear a fat guy in a day-glo vest would have waved it through saying, “Just hurry it up there, we’re trying to co-ordinate an imaginary emergency here.”

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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