Monday, March 21, 2011

Help, I’m trapped in an elevator

No, seriously, we were trapped in an elevator on Saturday evening. Thank you to the Watertown fire department for getting us out. Apparently Schindler Elevator Corporation has repeatedly failed to fix the elevator, so people keep getting stuck in it.

It turns out that Massachusetts has no process for tracking elevator entrapments. The Department of Public Safety handles inspections, but they don’t take reports of entrapments. Neither does anyone else in the state. This means there’s no way to find out if Schindler Elevator Corporation is a terribly incompetent, dishonest, or dangerous company by tracking how many of the elevators they maintain fail repeatedly and compare that failure frequency to the failure frequency from other companies. It’s impossible to know whether this experience is an unusual occurrence linked to a single elevator that is supposedly maintained by Schindler Elevator Corporation, or a single incompetent repair technician working for Schindler Elevator Corporation, or a company-wide pattern of gross negligence. There’s also no way for the state to track whether elevator entrapments are linked to other sorts of elevator accidents, and no way for the state to decide whether elevator inspections should be about more than whether the alarm button makes a noise.

I like data. More than that, I like the idea of data, because I like thinking that decisions informed by data are, on average, better decisions. On the other hand, the building’s owner knows that they’re paying $4500 a year to Schindler Elevator Corporation, and they know that the elevator is failing constantly, and they know that Schindler keeps trying and failing to fix the elevator, and they know that people keep getting trapped in the elevator, and all of that is data. And the building owner’s decision is to keep paying Schindler, so clearly not all decisions informed by data are better decisions.

The plural of anecdote is not data. But the plural of silence is not data either. And since the data is unavailable, I’ll go with anecdote. Anecdotally, I don’t like Schindler Elevator Corporation right now. Because I don’t like being trapped in an elevator.

And no, I’m not retitling the post “Schindler’s Lift.”


ruthling said...

Yikes! I saw our friend Carl on the T today, and I suggest you call him and ask him to propose something to fill this gap. I'd like that data, too. The elevator where I work used to trap people in it all the time, including me once, although I was only in there about ten minutes.

Michael said...

I'm wary of bending Carl's ear about too many issues, but that would be the right approach towards improving the system.