Guest Columnist

'Never happen again' is not enough

Students leave at the end of the school day at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. An interior secured vestibule through which visitors must pass was added four years ago. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Students leave at the end of the school day at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. An interior secured vestibule through which visitors must pass was added four years ago. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

When I read Vanessa Miller’s report that an audit revealed “unacceptable risks” in the University of Iowa’s emergency preparedness (Feb. 18), I was reminded of a story my mother liked to tell.

A woman returned home to find a penciled note left by her new cleaning woman. It read: “I’m sorry, but I can’t work in a home that keeps an alligator in the bathtub. I would have said something earlier, but I did not think the situation would arise.”

Our school superintendent advised new school board members, “I don’t like surprises.”

There are surprises in life. Situations arise one could never have anticipated. That’s true.

But most disasters and crises are predictable.

Every computer hard drive will crash someday. Mine did a couple of weeks ago. I make lots of stupid computer mistakes, but not this one, this time. I didn’t have to say, “This must never happen again.” I was able to say, “Thank goodness there’s a backup on an external hard drive.”

Railroad companies know that without “positive train control,” their trains can jump the tracks or crash into other trains, and people can die. City officials know that without winter housing for the homeless, some may die from the cold. University officials know the medical, mental and behavioral consequences of students’ excessive alcohol consumption.

And federal and state legislators (along with Iowa’s governor) know that, so long as they march in lockstep with the National Rifle Association, more schoolchildren will be shot.

For those paid big bucks to lead institutions — legislators, corporate CEOs, university presidents, school superintendents — responsibility for identifying and preventing potential disasters is part of their job description. We’re not talking about the equivalent of unpredictable alligators in bathtubs. We’re talking systemic failures, as the UI audit suggests.

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Yes, we want to learn from mistakes, to do better next time. But that no longer can be the “get out of jail free” card for the legislators and executives who’ve failed to do their “Job One.” OK, yes, tell us what you’re going to do so we, and others, won’t be going through this again.

But our real question for you is why, after 300 school shootings, did you so miserably fail at your job of anticipating the danger, and preventing it from happening this time?

• Nicholas Johnson is a former school board member in Iowa City and maintains FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.org and www.nicholasjohnson.org

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