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  • Down Periscope!!!

     Tom Matthies updated 9 years, 11 months ago 2 Members · 2 Posts
  • Mark Suszko

    January 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Another case of ENG Van with mast UP getting stuck under a bridge happened yesterday. I don’t know why but I get really enraged by this.

    To make that accident happen, the operator had to have overridden or disabled between one and four fail-safes and warning systems. Typically the Chief Engineer of the station has to sign off that the truck’s safety systems are in order and the operators are trained. The insurance on the truck very well may not cover any losses if the safety devices were circumvented. The station is out the costs of the damaged gear, the opportunity cost of losing use of the truck until it is repaired or replaced, and the fines and legal action that ensues.

    Here’s a few guesses.

    Under-trained, over-worked, under-paid truck op all by himself. Trucks used to be 2-man affairs, and the second man being the reporter does not count. The second man used to be a back-stop for the op, sharing the work and also being the second pair of eyes looking out for safety.

    Tight scheduling of the live shot by the News Director does not give enough time for one harried operator to set everything up while adhering to safety protocols. If he can’t get a good live shot out on his first try, he will run out of time to hit his feed time if he has to wait to retract the stabilizers and mast all the way, move, and re-deploy. Typically there is an interlock on the truck’s gear shift that won’t let you put it in gear unless the mast and stabilizers are stowed, or at least a god-awful loud alarm that won’t quit until things are right. Also typically, the mast controls are deliberately too far for someone in a driver-seat position to reach, and they are spring-loaded like a deadman switch. The operator can do nothing else like set up the camera or a tape feed or etc. until he can let go the mast deploy/retract button. It is not unknown to have the engineers or operators jimmy or otherwise disable these locks in ways that cannot be traced, like unscrewing a connector or pulling a breaker. Of course, just like embezzlers that swear they will pay every dime they’ve “borrowed” back, once the staff have been introduced to this “time saving” technique of circumventing the safety gear, they promise two things: it will be used “just this once” because the situation is SO dire, and second: they’ll put it all back before they get to the station, but they lose respect for the system after perverting it, and eventually one busy day after a hectic work period, they will forget to reconnect it all back the right way. And somebody next raises a mast into 22KV powerlines, or moves the van with the mast up *just a little bit* to get a clearer line-of-sight for the link… or doesn’t check for full retraction before bugging out to return the truck… and BAM.

    This combination of inadequate training, miserly time scheduling, pressure to deliver the signal above all other things, lax enforcement and review of safety protocols, and deliberate overriding of the mechanisms, is the recipe for a very expensive and potentially deadly accident.

    The only way you’re going to get 100 percent compliance is to make examples of all the folks involved, every time. This kind of accident should be a mandatory firing offense for the truck op, no appeal. You have to stop the mentality of making getting the shot the only, overriding goal. No accountant is going to tell you the cost of a lost truck is worth the fact that your disposable 1:30 VOSOT package about some Council meeting, house fire, stolen bicycle or whatever made it to the station on time.

    The engineering management and reporting staff that lets this kind of thing happen is also a liability to the company. The News Director who created the environment that led to compromising safety for productivity also needs re-education, perhaps most of all, because by their policies and day-to day decisions and actions, they are creating the overall environment that promotes the risky behavior. The crew usually does what they think the captain wants most.

  • Tom Matthies

    February 2, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    It’s a serious, ongoing problem in the business. No system is foolproof since fools are so ingenious. I used to teach operation of ENG vans and it’s amazing the ways people find to get around this stuff. We’d run into time crunch issues all of the time, especially, as you say, many places are now One Man Band operations. At least we had a Chief Engineer who was a no nonsense kind of guy. I had an instance where we were going live in the wake of a bunch of bad thunderstorms. As we were getting to ready to go on-air, lightning again began crashing down all around us. As the operator that day, I made the decision to lower the mast rather than turn the van into a lightning rod. The producer and News Director had a shit fit over the decision. It was a throw-away live shot, basically just a VO over B-Roll. I held my ground and dropped the mast fast and figured I’d deal with the aftermath later. When I got back the Chief Engineer (who was also the Station Manager) defended the decision and read the riot act to the Producer and News Director saying no live shot was worth risking the lives of the staff. He was backed up by the General Manager as well. That lead to a policy that if the ENG truck operator deemed that it was too dangerous to go live, he/she had the authority to pull the shot and had the backing of management in doing so. It was a big step in the right direction of common sense.I took the job seriously, to be sure. It’s a job that can kill with little warning.


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