Disaster knocks common sense into nation's maintenance departments

Joel Leonard says it’s shameful that it takes a disaster for us to wake up and do what is truly common sense.

By Joel Leonard

As terrible as the fallout from Hurricane Katrina has been, many good things have occurred because of this horrible event. In addition to the many acts of kindness and giving, prime-time news anchors are asking about the importance of chillers to keep Bell South’s phone systems working, singers and entertainers are saying during fundraisers that we all need to pay more attention to our infrastructure and how buildings are constructed, and politicians are learning about the political capital lost by not performing proactive (or even corrective) repairs and by not responding quickly to emergencies. We are learning first-hand the true the cost of deferred maintenance to our levies, dams and other key infrastructure.

Why are these good outcomes? Until the masses understand the needs of facilities engineering and maintenance, our proposals to repair and build better systems will be rejected, and our warnings will go unheeded.

Within the past month, three major airlines’ jets have fallen out of the sky, hundreds of people have died, and everyone in the world witnessed NASA perform a de-caulking mission so the Space Shuttle could reenter the earth’s atmosphere. Before lift-off, NASA had 200 engineers work on a malfunctioning fuel gauge. Not exactly rocket science.

For years, we’ve been shouting that we’re entering a perfect maintenance storm. The maintenance crisis is indeed here. When I wrote the maintenance crisis song, the serious engineers laughed me off and called me crazy. Last year, numerous engineering conferences worldwide used the song to kick off their sessions. Now many major radio stations are playing the songs and one of the editors of Rolling Stone encouraged me to pursue a Grammy for the upcoming CD album, “Pipe Dreaming.” An official at the Grammys loved the concept of the project and welcomed my submission.

Isn’t it shameful that maintenance has been so neglected that a song has to be written? It’s also a shame that those who do proactive maintenance are perceived as smart when it should be a given. And it is very shameful that it takes a disaster for us to wake up and do what is truly common sense.

Remember, the true value of a maintenance professional is not in the problems she solves but in those that never arise. Now may be the time for you to go to upper management to propose a complete maintenance overhaul of your business. Go for it! What can they do, turn you down? At least you’ll be the one who can say “I told you so” when your big one hits.

E-mail Joel Leonard at joel@mpactlearning.com

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