More than two weeks ago, a student came into my office and asked if I knew where the refugee site was. My face contorted into the expression that clearly says “this does not compute.” She said her friend told her to meet where the refugees are on the second floor. I had no idea what she was talking about, could not find it anywhere I could think to look. It’s been bugging me ever since.
It hit me about an hour ago – she was looking for the refuge site. The one that exists so that, should a fire or building emergency occur, people with mobility devices or who may need assistance in a building evacuation can gather there for help. This place? Has a sign. A huge, grey sign, hanging from the ceiling. I can see it from my desk if I tilt my body four inches to the left. Her friend was trying to give her a landmark to go by. It failed miserably.
Today has been a test of communication, from getting a few changes on a spreadsheet right to having a Big Thing happen with the scheduling department – and it keeps reminding me of Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and the US Department of Energy. As a radioactive waste site that will continue to be radioactive for thousands of years to come, Yucca Mountain poses an interesting problem: how do you warn people of danger when they may not speak the same language as you or understand the same cultural symbols as exist today? How do you make sure your message gets across as simply as possible, with as little confusion as possible, to save the lives of people who will live thousands of years removed from your own existence?
Probably don’t label it with a huge, grey sign hanging from the ceiling.
No one will see it.