SOMEWHERE in a cave in Afghanistan, a guy has just got home after a hard day’s jihad, cracked an ice-cold tube of something halal, and is laughing himself silly watching Australia’s Funniest Home Videos.
Not the normal program, where parents deliberately place their toddlers in front of the swing in a bid to win the Sony camcorder.
But the 6pm Sydney news from Monday night, where one of the biggest cities in the southern hemisphere shuddered to a halt because a few power cables cacked themselves and shut down two sub-stations.
And despite our alleged possession of a world’s best practice city-wide warning system, nothing was done to activate it - and, more importantly, nor could it have been. It’s not like we’re not prepared. The authorities have helpfully armed the nation with fridge magnets.
Since 2001, our state government has reassured the people of Sydney that it is lock-step with the feds in safeguarding our wellbeing against a backdrop of ongoing global strife.
It is terrifically good in theory. But Mad Monday showed we have every right to be alarmed at the shamefully un-alert nature of the politicians and bureaucrats who run this state.
You can include the police in that too. Not the frontline coppers who did the best they could scrambling to the 137 intersections where the lights were out, or helping the firies co-ordinate the rescue of poor people stuck in lifts.
But the police management of this city, where we now know that you can spend 15 minutes bashing someone to death in a departure lounge without getting caught on CCTV but get pinged in a jiffy by the speed cameras on the Eastern Distributor and Cross-City Tunnel when you leave the airport and drive home.
The debate about whether the city-wide loudspeaker warning system should have been activated is a valid one but it’s also kind of academic. The real question is whether it could have been activated. And the answer to that is: no.
The first part of the whole shambles was bad enough: the leisurely 35-minute wait before police management deemed it necessary to send SMS messages to the city’s 2400 office wardens confirming the power failure, no doubt to be greeted with a droll and deserved “No shit, Sherlock” as office workers walked down the fire stairs in the dark.
It’s the subsequent finger-pointing that leaves you scratching your head. A spokesman for Deputy Commissioner Dave Owens said on Monday night use or otherwise of the loudspeaker warning system was irrelevant, as it was only to be used in the event of a terrorist attack.
The spokesman said: “The system’s status was not a consideration in (Deputy Commissioner Owens’) decision, so it’s not an issue as to whether or not it would have worked.”
It mightn’t be an issue in the case of Monday’s power failure but it’s very much an issue in the context of the terror-related function it is meant to perform. Inadvertently, what this spin-doctor confirmed was that, in the event of a terrorist-related power failure, all that stands between the people of Sydney and al-Qaeda are a couple of AA batteries.
The stunning admission that the system has no back-up power supply is made more troubling by the fact that, in pretty much every major terror attack, in New York, Madrid, London, large sections of those cities’ power grids were taken out - or at least those sections where the terrorist attack had actually occurred, and where the warnings would need to be made.
No wonder the normally sanguine Professor Clive Williams labelled it a nonsense that the one thing that definitely wouldn’t work in the event of a terror attack is the emergency warning system. Nonsense doesn’t do it justice.
We can only hope that should they ever arrive, al-Qaeda will enter the city via the Eastern Distributor. At least the speed cameras will be working.
Texts from friends advising of the mayhem and office meltdowns were more reliable on Monday than anything we actually pay for with our tax dollars.
There were two things that made Monday’s chaos bearable - I was lucky enough to experience the whole thing, having left a meeting in Rosebery when it started at 4.30pm, driving back to Surry Hills through non-functioning traffic lights to find all my colleagues leaving our building, then spending the next hour driving home to the inner-west.
The first was the good-natured approach motorists took to the mayhem.
It was the kind of spontaneous co-operation that the Spanish anarchists dreamed of in the 1930s - a half-hour trip from Central to Cleveland St, not one intersection manned by police, and everyone cautiously edging into the traffic, using hands and facial gestures to let each other in. The second, which you could also add to the push for an anarchist state, was listening to 2GB’s comical attempt to track down a minister - any minister - who was prepared to take responsibility for what was happening. By the time I got home Jason Morrison had been referred to four different ministers, each of whom was flick-passing the issue to someone else.
The Ministers for Water Conservation and the Status of Women must have been dreading their turn.
Sydney has turned on the chaos before. Who could possibly forget the passenger train grinding to a halt in the middle of the Harbour Bridge just before the last state election - apart from that majority of now-sheepish voters who decided NSW Labor still deserved another term as reward for its excellent stewardship of our fine city.
But the sight of a few hundred office workers schlepping towards North Sydney was nothing compared to Mad Monday. Perversely, the only thing that appeared to be working was the train system. At least CityRail has a sense of humour. But for more laughs, the comedy came courtesy yesterday of Dave Owens and Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan, who in one of those great left-hand, right-hand moments confirmed everyone’s suspicions about the total lack of co-ordination in this shambolic state.
As Owens was on the defensive on 2GB, saying the emergency system was also powered by other sub-stations that weren’t affected by Monday’s meltdown, Whan confirmed it had been designed without battery back-up and, as such, wouldn’t have worked.
“There may be a need now to talk to my Cabinet colleagues and others about whether or not some other sort of upgrades are needed to the system,” he said. Maybe we should err on the side of charity and describe Monday as a learning experience.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…