The Machine that goes Ping!

Nov 15, 2022

For the Monty Python fans out there, the scene needs little explanation. A lady about to give birth, wheeled into an operating room in the hospital and the rest of the space crammed with gadgets and gizmos. The eminent doctors insist on having "the machine that goes Ping!" and proudly show the hospital administrator as he drops by. The father to be is unceremoniously ushered out and, without giving too much away, the mother is something of an afterthought. Nobody seems to know what the "machine that goes Ping!" actually does but they're very proud of it all the same. And not wanting imminent childbirth to distract from it.


There is something about technology that seems to attract our attention.




Do I have your attention?


Just checking.


It's taken a lot of effort not to go down the rabbit hole of why technology attracts our attention - in this post, I want to just draw your attention to our tendency to have our attention drawn by technology. See what I did there?


This matters in incident management because we have a lot of things clamoring for our attention and we need to make sure that we're paying attention to the right things. We need to keep our situational awareness; broad enough to know what's going on, focused enough to get things done.


Paramedics have a saying: 'treat the patient, don't treat the monitor'. They're referring to the wavy line machine (tell me if this gets too technical) that shows the patient's heartbeat. For inexperienced paramedics, a common trap is to focus on the wavy line and not look at the patient, who may be turning purple, either by not breathing or out of rage as the paramedic completely ignores them… In either case, the line may stay wavy for a while. On the other hand, the wavy line may go haywire and an excited trainee may get ready to send significant voltage through a startled patient who decided to play with a wire out of curiosity. Either way, embarrassing and a lot of paperwork will be required.


As you manage your part of an incident, there are going to be things that are really good at attracting your attention. Two ways to keep yourself safe (and avoid additional paperwork):

  • Be aware - know that something is trying to monopolize your attention and consciously check other sources
  • Process and checklists that force you to check all relevant inputs and do so on a continual basis


There is an opposite side to this coin. What's so common in your environment that you're tuning it out? If a computer makes a beep every time a message comes in and you're hearing that beep 100 times a minute, who's checking to make sure a vital message isn't missed? If you're signing authorization forms, are you reading them? Fortunately, the remedy is the same as before. Be aware and follow your process and checklists.


It's ok to be proud of "the machine that goes Ping!" but let's make sure that we stay aware of what's really going on. Even if the administrator drops by.

Incident Command