Power isn't Information

This past fall, once again, I volunteered my time to the New York City Marathon as an Amateur Radio Operator. I have been doing this for so long that I have lost count, but I think it's something on the order of 31 or 32 years. My position for the majority of this time has been on the Senior Staff of the radio operator's group and in this capacity I was, primarily a radio shadow to a top level NY Road Runner staff member keeping him or her abreast of problems along the course and communicate resolutions back to the course.

Overall the reason for radio operators to be involved in this event was to provide a safe environment to the participants in the race. We coordinate precursors to the race to ensure that the course is safe and defect free, man a multitude of points along the 26.2 mile course to ensure that aid stations have all the supplies they need for first aid, report dropout and medical transport information back to the finish line so that family members are aware of their loved one's status in the event.

When this event was conceived, there was no other way to reliably connect the different constituents in the race. Cellular phones, Internet and ubiquitous personal computers didn't exist. There just wasn't a way to join all these people together without our involvement. The amateur radio operators act as a communications pipeline to professionally and efficiently move information from point to point and then disseminate that information to be acted upon by those that we are serving.

This past running of the marathon is a perfect case study on how technology has advanced and that the support structures need to change to take advantage of those advances. Over time those that we are serving started to provide their own communications. From the runner on the course being able to call their spouse on their cell phone because they dropped out of the race, to the actual staffers at the Road Runners club utilizing a wide area trunked radio system that allows them to communicate over the entire course. We as communicators, need to accept that fact and acknowledge that our mission has changed.

I stress that our mission has changed and not disappeared. The Marathon still needs eyes and ears on the course. We still need to be there to efficiently route the information to the people that need it and no one but the radio operators know how to do this effectively. I listened to quite a bit of the internal communications that went on, on the Road Runner staff's radios and for the most part it worked for them, even though it was very inefficient. They have observed and learned from us over the years.

The reason I write about this here, is that information technology has taken the same arc. We, the professionals, need to foster more of the self service approach to our constituent's needs. They have learned from us over years of observation and can start taking care of themselves and we need to acknowledge that our mission has changed. I see it happen all the time, information or technology in an organization is closely held by a group, not because they are the only ones that know how to use it, but because they are only trying to protect their own interests. This is a waste of resources and needs to stop.


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