September last year, there was an accident aboard Harmony Of The Seas, which was the biggest cruise ship in the world at the time – I am told the same company has unveiled an even bigger one. The accident happened during a drill when one of the safety boats detached and fell tens of meters into the sea with crew members (who had been participating in the drill) aboard. The unfortunate accident resulted in the loss of two lives and injury of a number of crew members.
I had just arrived back to Nairobi, after a 7 day Euro Cruise aboard Harmony Of The Seas when the news broke. The ship was for me, a thing of wonder, I had never seen a cruise ship before leave alone boarded one (I am a villager). There was a lot to notice on the monstrosity that ferries 7,500 guests and 2,500 crew members. It has 17 floors (with rooms and all sorts of fun stuff including a skating rink, a theatre and many nightclubs), over 20 restaurants, a zip line, six-floor slide etc. It was truly dazzling.
However, what has stuck in my head since were the systems that kept this ship going. What it took to keep 10,000 people safe, happy, and especially food-poisoning free aboard this vessel.
While waiting for my turn on the zip line, I observed the sequence of events as the staff prepped each person to get on the line. There were a total of 6 steps to follow, and the two staffers followed each of the 6 steps for every single person! I got chatting with the lady who was signing us on for the adventure, and she shared that she had been on the ship for 6 months. Basically, these folks did this, every single day for 6 months! And though they were rotated to other recreational areas, they had to follow the steps at each turn.
The zip line was just one example. There were others:
- the ladies who waited outside each of the 15 restaurants with a giant bottle of sanitizer, squirting a generous amount onto every diner’s hands, before directing them to the handwashing sink, with a HUGE smile,
- the triple security checks that were conducted every evening when we made our way back to the ship after a day out in the towns (to check if we were trying to smuggle in alcohol), followed by more sanitizer,
- the fact that when a sore throat took me down to the sick bay, I was the only sick person that morning, in a “City” of 10,000. Imagine that.
- And finally, the safety drills that were performed each time a new group of guests boarded the ship, which everyone had to attend. It was during one such drill that the accident occurred – meaning every couple of days, the crew repeated the same drill.
Everything about that ship spoke of systems. I remember joking that 5-star hotels in Nairobi can barely get their swimming pool temperature right, yet here, we had 3 pools and 4 hot tubs on the 15th floor, all of which worked perfectly.
It is therefore not surprising that when this unfortunate accident happened, no guest thought, “We totally saw that coming!” Everyone was instead sad and in disbelief. As much as we wished it had not happened, we appreciated that nothing about the operations of the ship suggested they had been negligent.
In August, 9 students lost their lives in a dormitory fire at Moi Girls. The public sentiment was unlike that of the ship accident above. Many of us took to social media to share horrific tales of past fires and blatant neglect that led to this, and has caused many deaths to our schools. Everyone in Moi Girls saw it coming:
- Students narrated how the student who allegedly caused the fire had threatened to do so to force her parents to transfer her to another school. There was mention of mental health issues.
- Alumni and parents shared how the school administration had ignored repeated appeals for an expansion of dormitory capacity, in favour of building a chapel in the school.
- The girls were packed like sardines in a dormitory which was locked from outside, whose fire escape was blocked, and did not have a single fire extinguisher – all of these are in direct contravention of building regulations.
Maybe something will be done at Moi Girls to prevent future fires. I want to hope it will be, but for as long as there are no systems in place to make sure that ALL our schools are safe and remain so, this will not be the last school fire we will shake our heads about.
Yesterday, we shook our heads as the recovery of the victims of a chopper accident from Lake Nakuru took hours upon hours, because the rescuers were not well equipped (the search was eventually put off). As we did this, a building in Nakuru that had been earmarked for demolition collapsed – we were not even surprised. Road crashes rarely make headlines anymore.
Systems are boring.
As I waited my turn at the zip line, I wondered why all the 6 steps were necessary. Why have 2 operators instead of 1, yet they do this all the time? It sure slowed down the otherwise fun activity, but this system, following the process as it was designed is what kept the zip line safe. This is exactly why we all did not see that crew accident coming.
Why are we always so ill-prepared, yet we know accidents happen?