Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reportable Shortcomings

Reports. The enemy of productivity, the glory of bureaucrats, the nemesis of time-strapped fire chiefs. Reports alternately keep the wheels of government oiled, or bog them down with useless information. If the world dissolved into chaos, all would still be well in the insular bastions of bureaucracy as long as the proper reports continued to roll in with t's crossed and i's dotted.

[Side note 1: The the great thing about typed reports is that the i's dot themselves. My inner rebel chafes at dotting i's].

Bureaucracy hangs precariously on four reporting principles:
  1. If it wasn't written down, it didn't happen.

  2. If it was written down improperly, it didn't happen.

  3. If it was written down properly but on the wrong form, it didn't happen.

  4. THEREFORE, writing things down properly on the right form is the most important task in the world.

[Side note 2: Rules 1-3 only apply when you do things right. When you do something wrong, the bloodhounds will prove that it DID happen, regardless of whether you report it or not].

It's no wonder governments can't get anything done. Once elected, they barely finish signing all those hordes of proper papers before they get voted out and the next guy has to start all over again.

Fire department reports come in a mishmash of flavours: Manually typed reports. Computer generated reports. Hand scribbled reports. Incident reports. Collision Response reports. Inspection reports. Equipment reports. Vehicle checklist reports. Compliance reports. Mutual Aid reports. Check Up On My Reports reports.

Every time a truck rolls, every time we put water on fire, every time a firefighter learns something in training, a report must be filled out or no one believes that the event occurred. Then there are the reports that must be done simply because time has passed. Weekly reports. Monthly reports. The Dread Annual Report, which attempts to cram all other reports into one concisely overstuffed document.

Sometimes reportable events occur all at once. The trucks roll. Water is applied to fire. Firefighters train. The week, month, and year all end on the same day. For an office-impaired, secretary-less chief on the peripheral edge of the universe, crisis arrives. My desk attracts papers like a hoarder's lair attracts empty pizza cartons. Even a reporting delinquent like me knows it's time for serious action.

As a temporary solution, I ignore all that paper. Then I look sideways at the shredder, contemplating a more permanent fix. Another possible solution would be to cram it all into a box and shove it into some dark corner of the fire hall. Eventually I would run out of dark corners though, and I do have a conscience somewhere in the deep recesses of my being, so I take the high road. I spread all those half finished reports over every available flat surface so I can look the devil in the eye, then sort and organize and type and sign and file them all away where I'll never have to think about them again. I hope.

Of course there is always the chance that five and a half years from now, some lawyer or insurance agent or bureaucrat will phone and say, "Did you respond to such-and-such an incident on January 10, 2011? And I'll say, "How am I supposed to know?" And he or she will say, "Don't you have a highly organized file cabinet full of reports?" And I'll say, "Um yes, of course I do." (white lies are okay in crisis situations). And he or she will say, "Find the January 10 report on pain of cruel and unusual punishment." And when I find it three days later, I'll be glad that I took the high road to semi organization, five and a half years previous.

By the way, Cruel and Unusual Punishment in this case means being chained to a desk full of unfinished reports, while an endless soundtrack is piped into your windowless cubicle:

If you didn't write it down
Yeah, yeah, yeah
It didn't ever happen
Yeah, yeah, yeah

I'm breaking into a cold sweat just thinking about it. I know what I'm doing first thing tomorrow morning.


  1. Hah. I love the picture. Can I steal it for my next Fire Department Management software demo? I'll give you credit and everything.

    But seriously, Tim - Ontario is actually on OK province to live in as far as reporting stuff goes. If you ever want to be depressed, ask Marci at Spruce Grove about the First Responder reports they have to do.

    They report to 3 government agencies - AEMA, Alberta Health and Alberta Safety (I think - there are 2 that are basically Alberta health). All their data is pretty much reported to each of the agencies, but all 3 want it in different forms, compiled in different ways, and at least one of them won't let them use anything but the SPREADSHEET that they send out.

    While this move to massive record-keeping is fuelled largely by Insurance and Workman's Comp, it's really been helpful for companies like mine - the move to software-based record keeping has been relentless in Ontario, and the rest of the country is stumbling after.

  2. It's fun to complain, and reporting is an easy target. I do give Ontario credit for trying to simplify the process via the Internet, while attempting to maintain a viable database. But I still hate writing reports . . .

    Use the pics, and share the millions you make off them. Deal? Thanks! :-)

  3. "When you do something wrong, the bloodhounds will prove that it DID happen, regardless of whether you report it or not..."

    Man, ain't THAT the truth :)

  4. We recommend this book: Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. You may or may not be familiar with Pratchett, who writes fantasy/parody/humour (several dozen in the Discworld series, to date) based on easily-recognized modern cultural themes. This one contains, among other things, speculation on what would happen if the Auditors, little gray beings who float about checking up on the details of life and trying to make everything fit into their relentlessly logical view of how the universe SHOULD run, were to actually have things their way.

    "Nine-tenths of the universe, in fact, is the paperwork..."

  5. Well, not millions yet, but that's the plan. How about just credit and a link to your blog?

  6. A credit and link is great. Glad to share.


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