Friday, September 07, 2007

More Reviews and More Submarine Stuff

Julie's art business blog--a nice blog, with a mixture of reviews of writing on the subject and her own personnel reflections. Three solid entries so far.

Gerri's blog on gas prices begins by asking whether a car is a necessity, and then moves to a description of how gasoline is made. Good work, though she needs more entries.

Megan's food safety blog has some really interesting thoughts on the subjects. Only two brief entries so far though.

My own research continues. Let's look at this web of texts a submariner lives in another way today.

Let me give you an example in the form of a very simple, very routine shipboard evolution. John is a junior nuclear watchstander in the lower level of the engineroom of a submarine. He is taking his hourly logs, which means he has to take a tour through his assigned spaces and read and record various pressures, temperatures, and levels in his “log” a documents which is basically a grid which he fills with numbers. During this process, he notes that one of his parameters, a tank level, is above its acceptable range. He writes a sentence recording that fact in the narrative section of his log. He then picks up the phone and calls the watch officer in the reactor control room and reports this information. The watch officer acknowledges the report, and calls his roving watch supervisor to the control room and instructs him to begin preparing to pump down the tank. The watch officer then calls the ship’s control room, and requests permission to pump the tank. The officer in charge of the ship’s control room acknowledges the request, and consults environmental regulations and the plot of the ship’s course to determine if the ship is in a location where pumping this tank is permitted. Once he has done so, he calls the reactor watch officer, and orders that the tank be pumped.

In the meantime, the roving watch supervisor has went to the lower level of the engine room, and is reviewing with John the standard operating procedure to pump the tank. The watch supervisor notes that the procedure requires that the tank be first vented and sampled for hydrogen, so he goes to a locker and breaks out a portable hydrogen detector and its operating manual. They review the procedures to sample for hydrogen.

The reactor control officer gives the order to his watch supervisor to pump the tank and to report all primary valve operations to the reactor control room. The watch supervisor directs the simple evolution, which first involves opening a vent valve, sampling for hydrogen, shutting the vent valve. John records the hydrogen level in the narrative section of his log. The watch supervisor then orders John to open a suction valve to the tank, start s pump, then opens a valve to discharge the tank effluent into the ocean. When the tank level reaches the desired level, the watchstander shuts the discharge valve, stops the pump, and then shuts the suction valve. Each time one of these valves are operated, John records the operation in the narrative of his log, and the watch supervisor reports the valve operation to the reactor control room. At the end of the operation he records the new tank level in the narrative of the log. The watch supervisor reviews and initials the log as part of his periodic four-hour review.

In the reactor control room, the reactor control officer has one of the control room watchstanders record each of the valve operations in the primary valve operations logbook. The officer updates the laminated reactor plant schematic with a grease pencil, marking an open valve with a red “O” and a shut valve with a red “X.” Once the operation is complete, the reactor control officer logs the completion of the task in his own log narrative which is reviewed daily by the Commanding Officer and the Ship’s Engineer. He reports the completion of the pumping operation, the new tank level, and the final position of the discharge valve to the ship’s control room officer, who acknowledges the report, and verifies the valve position by checking the remote valve position indicator for the hull valve in the ship’s control room.

This kind of operation, and many more complex operations occur routinely on every watch on board a submarine. In this operation, three manuals were consulted—an environmental manual, an operations manual, and a technical manual for a hydrogen detector. A tank level, an out of normal condition, six valve operations, a final tank level, and a review check are entered into the lower level watchstander’s log. Six valve operations are entered into the primary valve operations log, and six valve operations are updated on the reactor control schematic. The operation is logged in the reactor control officers log.

Bierly and Spender describe this system of redundancy in oral and textual communication as one that “helps to establish crisis-resistant patterns of communication and behavior (1995, p. 648). It also helps to reinforce the hierarchical authority relations essential to central bureaucratic control, while also involving numerous watchstanders in the process so that any one of them can interrupt the process when an error is made. This is where the clan culture established by Rickover becomes so important. In a strictly bureaucratic culture, John, the lower level watchstander is simply expected to blindly follow orders. In the nuclear clan culture established by H.G. Rickover, John is expected to speak up and intervene if one of his superiors makes a mistake, such as forgetting to sample the tank for hydrogen. Considering the dangers of a hydrogen-fueled fire, or of flooding due to an improperly positioned valve in the confined spaces of a submarine, the complex network of written and spoken texts across several levels of control make sense. This is the essence of textual consumption and production in a high reliability organization.


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