In the history and evolution of professional communication practices, there are several instances that have greatly impacted our understanding of the necessity for clear and effective technical communication. Few, however, have had such eye-opening impact that they continue to be discussed decades after their occurrence. Two such incidents to have reached this height are concerning the Three Mile Island nuclear plant and the Challenger shuttle launch. (Martha Cooper. Three Mile Island. 1979. The Washington Post. Web. 3 July 2012) (Martha Cooper. Three Mile Island. 1979. The Washington Post. Web. 13 July 2012) In March of 1979, the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant of Middleton, PA faced near meltdown. People feared an unseen enemy: radiation. B. M. Dunn had some vital information to the possibility of this incident prior to its occurring. Dunn relayed this information to D. F. Hallman. Hallman’s memo and the involvement of those who did or did not receive it have been under a microscope since this historical event.
On January 28, 1986, another incident of failed communication occurred. The Challenger space shuttle was set to launch and indeed it did, but it did not make it to the intended destination as it exploded in mid-air. Prior to the launch, Roger Boisjoly had made efforts to address an issue of a possible equipment malfunction that had been pointed out by. Unfortunately, nothing was done to ensure the avoidance of this malfunction. In both instances, catastrophe could have been prevented. There were attempts made to address serious concern on both parts.
There remains no question that something more could have been done. However, a question of great weight and of ongoing discussion is whether that missing link lies in the communication processes, the documents themselves, or the actions of those involved in the chain of communication. A Matter of Nuclear Proportion In a relatively short memo written by D. F. Hallman, manager of Plant Performance Services at TMI, he relays the concerns of B. M. Dunn. A problem with the practices and procedures of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant is addressed.
Dunn is the manager of the Emergency Core Cooling System Analysis department of Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), the same company that designed the nuclear reactor for the Three Mile Island power plant. (Mathes) Short, Sweet, and to the Point? Quite frankly, this memo leaves much to be desired, given the weight of the situation. In its entirety, it is a few brief paragraphs addressing the situation and a few questions that need to be answered promptly. It is somewhat formal yet lacks the urgency in tone necessary to move the reader to action.
There are, however, some references attached that provide the information in more detail. These attachments aside, Hallman seems to have minimal concern for the efficiency of the actions required. (Hallman) Upon some background research, it is clearly seen that Hallman was not the proper person for Dunn to contact with such vital information. For a decision such as this one, the concerns should have been sent to another department, one with the authority, ability and experiential knowledge to understand the gravity of the situation.
Can one blame Hallman for not knowing? Could it be that he was aware of the proper destination of such information and failed to relay it there? Some questions are left unanswered. A Matter of Astronomical Consequence (Associated Press. Space Shuttle Challenger Wreckage Entombment; About. com; Web. 13 July 2012) (Associated Press. Space Shuttle Challenger Wreckage Entombment; About. com; Web. 13 July 2012) Roger Boisjoly wrote a memo addressing his concern with the possibility of O-rings that were vital in the safe launch of the Challenger space shuttle.
Boisjoly was an engineer for Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of those very O-rings. His memo was well written, with a clear layout and was directed to the proper recipient for effective action in such circumstances. The subject matter is clearly stated in the heading. After proper notation of the parties involved, Boisjoly writes with clarity of intent and the necessary tone to relay the seriousness of such a scenario.
Textbook Effective In this memo, he does well to stress the fact that he believed this O-ring corrosion may lead to a “catastrophe of the highest order – loss of human life. How else could one covey such urgency? Boisjoly admits an “honest and very real fear” that if immediate action was not taken to solve the problem with these O-rings, this entire shuttle mission stands in “jeopardy of losing a flight along with all the launch pad facilities. ” The choice of words seems very intentional and appropriately weighty given the possible outcome. (Boisjoly) So what was done with this information? Apparently, it was merely dismissed as being non-crucial to flight success.
The morning of the shuttle launch was particularly cold and this played a major factor in the performance or failure of these O-rings but this too was addressed by Boisjoly. Could he have done more to ensure that necessary action was taken to address the situation? Concluding Thoughts It seems very clear that from these two examples of communication one stands as lackadaisical or complacent and the other effectively and appropriately written. It may very well be that Hallman was not the appropriate recipient for the previous memos.
It may also be said that Dunn was responsible for insuring the proper destination of this information. Whatever the case, this memo written by Hallman was ineffective both in composition and in handling. In contrast, Boisjoly wrote clearly and effectively. Why is it that the proper actions were still not taken? The bottom of this question may not ever be reached but it is a clear example of the need for serious handling of information—for both the writer and the reader. Without these two factors, we may have yet to see the worst examples of failed communication.
Courtney from Study Moose