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Public Administration Essay

“The Blast in Centralia No. 5: A Mine Disaster No One Stopped” by John Bartlow Martin. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. Copyright 1948 by John Bartlow Martin. Copyright renewed 1975 by John Bartlow Martin. Overview

The title of this case study alone insinuates that perhaps this mine disaster could have been prevented. Martin opens his case study with very descriptive and gruesome details about the events that lead up to the explosion. Martin states: “One hundred and eleven men were killed in that explosion. Killed needlessly, for almost everybody concerned had known for months, even years, that the mine was dangerous. Yet nobody had done anything effective about it” (Stillman 31). Initially, the thought and idea that a community would allow such a horrific event to occur that could have been prevented is terrifying and somewhat startling. Martin uses his case study to explore various questions regarding this mine disaster as well as the background and other potential issues surrounding the explosion. Purpose

The overall goal of this case study is to place an emphasis on how dependent modern day society is on public administration to handle chaotic or unexpected situations. In exploring various aspects of this catastrophe, Martin explores the following: (1). A coal company sensitive only to profit incentives. (2). State regulatory agencies inadequately enforcing mine safety legislation. (3). Federal officials and mine unions complacent about a growing problem. (4).

The miners incapable of protecting themselves against the impending disaster. Ultimately, “Modern society depends on the proper functioning of unseen administrative arrangements— for safeguarding our environment; for protecting the purity of our food; for transporting us safely by road, rail, or air; for sending us our mail; or negotiating an arms limitations agreement at some distant diplomatic conference. All of us like miners in Centralia No. 5, rely throughout our lives on the immovable juggernaut of impersonal administrative systems” (Stillman 30). It seems that most people as a whole have absent mindedly become too dependent on something as abstract and complicated as public administration. It seems to be public administration and its official’s responsibility to handle any concern in the community as well as make everything flow smoothly. To the Letter of the Law

Driscoll O. Scanlan, a dedicated mine inspector, strove to enforce mining laws “to the letter of the law” because he deeply desired to protect miners and took his responsibility and job deeply. In a sense, Scanlan’s motivation toward the Constitution (the law), bureaucracy (as a public administrator responsible to the public), and obligation all played a key factor in his attitude and efforts that he made towards inspecting mines. The Stillman text states the following in regards to Scanlan: “Other inspectors, arriving to inspect a mine would go into the office and chat with the company officials.

Not Scanlan; he waited outside, and down in the mine he talked with the miners, not the bosses” (Stillman 32). The text goes on to state many other comparisons between Scanlan and the other mine inspectors. Scanlan’s actions and efforts showed that he truly had a passion for his job and a genuine concern for the miners. For all of these reasons and many more, Scanlan gained a different perspective as well as insight than the other inspectors which ultimately led him to deem the Centralia No. 5 mine the worst in the district. This realization pushed him to take action. Scanlan’s Actions

Scanlan was very persistent in his attempts to bring attention to the troublesome areas in the Centralia No. 5. Mine. Letter after letter he provided a detailed description of issues, potential recommendations, and concerns that he had about the condition of the mine. Those concerns included the following: (1). The amount of dust (2). The overall cleanliness of the mine. I am for the efforts and attempts that Scanlan made. Over a period of thirteen years, Scanlan took the appropriate steps towards potentially preventing the disaster that occurred in the Centralia No. 5. Mine. Scanlan reached out to the Department of Mines, Minerals at Springfield company, directors of various departments, Governor Green, presidents in numerous agencies, superintendents, attended meetings, and made many other actions that could have benefited the miners and the overall condition of the mine. Alternative Actions

Scanlan could have done the following after he saw that effort was not being made to aid the miners or the mine: (1) Dust the mine himself (2) Sprinkle the roads himself (3) Threaten to shut down the mine (4) Actually close down the mine. All of these potential options were possible; however, these actions would have been very time consuming and tedious. Overall, Scanlan did all that he could do to prevent the disaster in the mine. By law, a mine inspector could shut down a mine. Scanlan informed the miners of their potential dangers as well as gave certain recommendations and reported his findings to the appropriate actors. As a last resort, Scanlan could have closed down the mine or went to and relied on an inspector or supervisor above him to take further action. Responsibility

According to an article entitled: Can Government Regulate Safety? The Coal Mine Example, “the Federal government has been directly involved in coal mining safety for over 35 years, operating under three major pieces of legislation enacted in 1941, 1952, and 1969. In fact, the 1941 and 1969 regulations significantly reduced the fatality rate in coal mining” (Lewis-Beck and Alford 1). Mark Aldrich, professor of economics at Smith College, stated the following in his article entitled: The Needless Peril of the Coal Mine: The Bureau of Mines and the Campaign against Coal Mine Explosions, 1910-1940, “The bureau continued the safety investigations begun by the USGS which focused largely on the prevention of explosions and their con-sequences.

In addition to certifying and championing the use of permissible mine equipment, it also launched a first-aid and mine rescue campaign. But its most important work was its investigation of the causes of coal dust explosions and its campaign to spread rock-dusting technology. This choice of safety priorities resulted in part from the bureau’s bureaucratic structure and scientific and technological orientation. No group within the bureau was charged with setting priorities, and research problems were usually chosen by scientists with little direction from above” (Aldrich 542). Conclusion

If the appropriate actions were taken when Scanlan first made recommendations about the mine, the mine disaster could have been prevented. Ultimately, it is not one person or agency’s full responsibility to prevent disasters such as this one; it is a joint effort among workers, the community, legislation, inspectors, and many more to ensure that working conditions are safe and not a potential hazard to society as a whole.


Aldrich, Mark. Preventing “The Needless Peril of the Coal Mine”: The Bureau of Mines and the Campaign against Coal Mine Explosions, 1910-1940 Technology and Culture , Vol. 36, No. 3 (Jul., 1995), pp. 483-518. Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3107239.

Lewis-Beck ,Michael S. and John R. Alford. “Can Government Regulate Safety? The Coal Mine Example.” The American Political Science Review , Vol. 74, No. 3 (Sep., 1980), pp. 745-756 Published by: American Political Science Association Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1958155. Stillman, Richard Joseph. Public Administration: Concepts and Cases. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. Print. “The Blast in Centralia No. 5: A Mine Disaster No One Stopped” by John Bartlow Martin. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. Copyright 1948 by John Bartlow Martin. Copyright renewed 1975 by John Bartlow Martin.

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