The value of monitoring in our lives
Peter Sparkes, AECOM Associate director and co-author of CIRIA guide C788 outlines the importance of monitoring as demands on our infrastructure increase and change.
The government is encouraging the country to “build, build, build”, to pull the country back into a healthier economy. All of this against a growing backdrop of sustainability: - as we change life, so we must do it with more transparent thought and care for the future, with less waste. Added to this we are all, as individuals, becoming more used to being guided, tracked and traced, to ensure a safer life. Monitoring therefore has an ever-increasing value to ourselves, the systems we use in life, and the infrastructure we need to facilitate them. A common feature of systems in life is flow, of goods, people, vehicles, information, and other essentials. An essential feature of successful infrastructure is its integrity, how well it stays bound together as it does its job, in the environment that tries to wear it down throughout its life. Therefore if we want longer life, we must monitor more, to know more, to be more confident about future life.
The need to develop how we monitor, both qualitatively and quantitatively, grows stronger every day. The need has always been there, but perversely we often resist its obvious benefits. Some of us don’t want to be told so much that we are in a dangerous place, for example; instead we keep some perverse grip on pride as a means of defence, of invulnerability. Possibly we want to believe we are simply tough enough. Yet when we encounter the result of some fall, some direct exposure to what we ignored, we are shocked and yearn to change our ways, till the danger retreats from our lives. The responsibility of those we entrust in management and government must therefore be to understand this human behaviour, but at the same time to manage in such a way as to ensure that we are proactively informed and warned in all circumstances, irrespective of any temporary desire of ours not to be. Looking ahead, envisaging a possible future, learning from what we experience, knowing as much as possible about what is hidden now and could be in the future till some key point, is essential as a constant of life. The vehicle driver must know that the bridge ahead is safe, every time. The householder living with a dam near their town must know each day that the dam is safe each day, and safe in the future. They cannot be left to assume. Facts must replace assumptions wherever possible. Too much infrastructure looks ok on the outside, and deceives. Many catastrophic events are quick, giving little time to react; but what leads up to those events can take years, and this time must be used to track in some way, to prevent the worst.
So it is preferable to proactively test, monitor, learn and add more to what we know, to plan for necessary intervention. We can and should also monitor reactively after an event, to learn from the unexpected or from our mistakes; but by then the cost is much higher. In all of this safety must come first, safety must dictate. Capacity is nothing if not accompanied by safety. A dam can suddenly fail, when a few minutes ago the level was not too high; a person can catch a virus because they get too close, for just too long. We must monitor to know, to be safe, in our flow through life.