Sunday, May 6, 2007

Twelve Hours

In the overall scheme of things, 12 hours is like one grain of sand on an endless beach. It's a speck on the celestial radar screen. It's one raindrop in a barrel overflowing with water. Twelve hours ain't nothing...

...unless one speaks of a day. At this juncture, 12 hours takes on far greater significance. Twelve hours is one-half of one calendar day. In the workaday world, 12 hours takes on even greater meaning; it's one and one-half days of work.

For those people who toil away for a 40-hour work week, 3 12-hour shifts almost is comparable to 5 8-hour days. Five consecutive 12-hour shifts is the equivalent of 7.5 regular 8-hour shifts and, for most people, those 7.5 days are broken up by a 2-day weekend.

The reason I'm focusing this entry on the number 12 is that, according to the assigned police officers I'm working with regarding the ongoing protests here in Aberdeen, all local law enforcement are working 12-hour shifts with all vacations and leave put on hold.

Just about anyone can put in a 12-hour day without it causing too much of a problem. In fact, if called upon by extraordinary circumstances, most of us could work 2 or 3 such shifts without too much ill wear. However, once most people pass the 3 day mark, 12-hour shifts begin to take a toll.

When people are overworked -- particularly when it involves high pressure situations -- nerves begin to fray. People begin to get crabby and crotchety. Little frustrations that normally would go unnoticed get magnified. Simple disagreements can blow up into major imbroglios. And overworked individuals simply don't think as clearly and rationally as well rested ones.

It is for this reason alone that I hope the current situation at the Port of Grays Harbor doesn't drag on for several more days. Our small town is filled with a battalion of overworked and overstressed men (I haven't seen ANY female officers in several days) who happen to have a small arsenal of weaponry attached to their belts.

I don't know about you, but I don't think that frayed nerves and loaded guns are a good mixture. I realize that law enforcement personnel receive lots of training on how to deal with situations of this manner, but human nature tends to take precedence and it's these elements of basic human nature that worry me.

We've got probably 100 or more officers who have been told repeatedly to expect trouble. They've been putting in long hours day after day and the "trouble" they are so prepared to encounter hasn't materialized at all. Almost any person will find themselves in a difficult personal situation if they are all keyed up for a confrontation and then nothing happens.

You combine this overarching anxiety with a lack of sleep/down time and you've created a volatile mixture, one that could explode over the tiniest perceived incident.

Today will, undoubtedly, be a most interesting day. I hope it's not an explosive one.

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