Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silent Movie

"All anybody wants from technology", wrote Douglas Adams, "is for it to work," and I did rather feel that way at tonight's full council meeting which was scheduled for an inaugural pilot webcast.

Councillors Campbell, Wells and Jarvis were wearing unusually bright and colourful ties, which could have been a contributory factor and even Cllr Nottingham wore a tie, a gesture worth noting in its own right. I was wearing my best suit, clearly displaying the logo of the local business acting as sponsor and several councillors were sporting new hair styles, including one who is normally quite bald. Better still, everyone was on their best behaviour to welcome Labour's councillor Sandra Hart to the chamber and there was a palpable sense of Christmas goodwill, reminiscent of that famous temporary truce on the Western Front in the First World War.

In fact, the problem that prevented the webcast had nothing to do with the internet and the cameras, which were both working as they should be. It was to do with the ageing and frayed wiring microphone system in the chamber, which performed properly during the dry run yesterday evening but simply declined to cooperate tonight. I put it down to Murphy's Law and some strange quantum probability effect, which causes technology to fail, when enough people are relying on it to work at a critical moment. Given the absence of sound, I authorised the "pulling of the plug" on the web cast rather than deliver a silent movie to the public. Naturally we'll have an inquest and look to have it working next time around but the chamber microphones will continue to present a problem because in the present economic climate the budget simply doesn't exist to completely rewire the council chamber.

Just a couple of points I would like to highlight from tonight's meeting. Councillor Wise reminded members of the opposition that the disabled facility grants come from capital funding rather than revenue funding. What this means is that unless councils sell assets as instructed by government, then they cannot raise the capital needed to fund such programmes the same is true for capital receipts for sports funding. The second point involves EuroKent and Cllr Ezekiel pointed out that Thanet is obliged to build 600 new homes somewhere and if the opposition can come-up with a better idea of where these should go then he would like to hear it.

Good news of course from tonight surrounds the £12.4million of funds allocated from different sources and grants for the regeneration of Dreamland and I'm sure many readers will welcome the sight of it reopening in two years time.

On a completely different not, I notice that Richard Eastcliff is accusing Thanet South's Laura Sandys of being out of touch with local information when he writes:

"Two two causes for celebration this week. First, the 'news', as brought to you by the Blue Rinse candidate for Thanet South, that 'the life saving air sea rescue service based at Manston is set to be relocated to the Midlands at the end of this month.' Er, 'what air sea rescue service based at Manston?', you may ask. Clearly, however, that was not a question the intrepid reporter at yourfannitinnit could be bothered with."

I know something about this subject having flown the Coastguard Islander aircraft out of Manston. (see photo-stream) The role at Manston is principally a reconnaissance task, monitoring the channel shipping lanes. However, the Islander is able to fly low and slow and carries infra-red cameras and rescue equipment that can be dropped into the sea to survivors and this includes a dinghy. Of late, I understand that a number of missions have involved the rescue capability although it is not the principal role.

This reconnaissance role is now being moved back to the Midlands and the Islander is to be replaced by the much faster Cessna 406, which does not carry rescue equipment and is a pure shipping lanes reconnaissance aircraft. As a result, we won't have a rescue capable aircraft within immediate reach and will have to wait on either the Belgian Coastguard helicopter or the RAF rescue helicopter out of Suffolk. That 30 minutes difference between climbing into a life raft dropped by the Islander from Manston or floating in the sea waiting for a helicopter, to arrive could prove critical and this was Laura's quite appropriate concern, which I'm sure many readers will share.

In fact, the Coastguard and the Home Office are now reportedly looking at a multi-agency approach to maritime surveillance and my information suggests that unmanned drones, a cut-down version of the US Predator, sitting above the South coast of England, 24-hours a day, will soon be on the cards.


Peter Checksfield said...

RE "new homes"; do these have to be new buildings or can they be the conversion of old derelict properties? Those that spring to mind are the Arcadian & Fort Hotels (somethings needs to be done with these pretty urgently because of their location!) & The Lido, as well as finishing the work at the Royal Seabathing Hospital.

And I still think that building on golf courses would be preferable to building on farm land (the one near Epple Bay would make a good location for housing!).

Michael Child said...

Hi Simon perhaps ten years ago rewiring the council chamber would have been a sensible option, now wireless microphones would be the most cost effective solution see you will note that prices start around £9.99.

With the top of the range systems costing about £1,000 I would recommend asking a few other councils what they are using and how reliable it is.

Anonymous said...

Hi Simon,

as someone who's RAF career culminated with a five stretch on SAR Flight at Manston, I reckon the dropping of a liferaft to victims in the water in anything apart from very mild weather conditions would be a pretty hit and miss job however well intentioned. As you know, survival times in local waters, especially in adverse conditions are fairly short unless fully kitted out and if kitted, your ability to climb into a raft even in a suit full of 'adrenelin' would be limited in most cases.

If I was bobbing up and down and had been in the 'oggin' for the half hour (plus) needed for a fixed wing response, I doubt I'd be able to swim after a raft. I'd much rather be winched please. Preferably by a chopper that arrived a dammed site quicker than the 30mins currently on offer!

Having a bloomin' IR camera thrown in wouldn't cheer me up either!!! (Sorry, it's the way I read it.... grin.)

DrM. said...

I defer of course to your experience on the subject but still feel obliged to point out that having a rapid presence with a life raft available is still better than waiting for the the arrival of the Helicopter from Suffolk, which would still have to do the winch job anyway. It still offers a chance of survival and the infra-red cameras can of course help locate people in the water while the helicopter is on its way.

My understanding is that the life raft option has been used on a number of occasions this year while waiting for the helicopter or the lifeboat and I quite agree that it's a hit and miss effort in all but ideal conditions.

Me, if I went down on a cross-channel flight, I would be grateful for anything that increased the possibility of survival, however slim and as a banner pilot, I reckon I could drop a life raft pretty damn close to someone in the water with an Islander throttled right back to just above the stall and I'm sure any experienced pilot could achieve the same with luck.