Saturday, May 17, 2008

Adventures in the bureaucracy

A few weeks ago the director for my branch of the Large Nameless Agency that employs me sent around an e-mail asking that anyone interested in being deployed in the event of a public health emergency identify him or herself. People had to be willing to travel at the drop of the proverbial hat as well as be willing to work at odd times (nights, weekends). Why they'd be interested in having writer-editors as part of a response team mystified me as old hands at LNA tell me it used to only very specific scientific types (i.e., actual epidemiologists) who got tapped to be on the response list. Who knows, though, maybe there is a remote possibility it would be good to have someone checking the press releases for dangling participles and misplaced hyphens before telling folks, "Hey, did you read The Stand? Guess what? It's no longer fiction."

In any case, being willing to do almost anything if it provides an opportunity to escape from the cubicle (including, obviously, being exposed to unknown pathogens), I volunteered. Yes, I said, put me on the list. I then forgot about it. I am super low in seniority among the writers at LNA -- there's no way I'd ever get tapped. I was, of course, wrong. Turns out only two or three of us wordsmiths volunteered, and, no surprise here, we've all been at LNA for less than two years. As with bureaucracies everywhere, apparently the only people who ever volunteer for anything are the folks who haven't been at LNA long enough to have their curiousity and/or ambition extinguished.

This week I began the process of getting all the various bureaucratic hurdles cleared that will allow my name to be added to the response list. Yesterday I passed both the physical and the respirator training. Next week I'll start the paperwork in motion for the other items on the list -- but the biggie was the physical. However, being middle-aged and sedentary aren't the handicaps I'd feared they would be. It appears the major qualification for being judged physically fit was simply being able to breathe and walk unassisted, although they did do both a lung capacity test and an EKG to confirm the visual evidence. So who knows? Maybe I will get to escape the cubicle occasionally after all.

[The respirator is a glorified dust mask. I will never, ever be one of those people at LNA who get to wear the nifty spacesuits with a self-contained air supply. ]


  1. i was raised in the military...the first thing i learned was..never volunteer...daddy said the first and last time he volunteered for anything they sent him to france to fight the germans..and when he got there the germans had stolen all the wine...

  2. I'm a Vietnam era vet. I know the hazards of stepping forward while wiser colleagues are busy staring at the floor. My volunteering is a prime example of just how crazy staring at four gray fabric walls 8 hours a day can make a person.

    I'm also thinking that if I'm an example of what this country is going to be relying on in case of an emergency, we are all so screwed. . .


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.