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Learning From Adversity

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

As we approach the first anniversary of the dreadful pandemic, much of the Midwest also endured a record cold snap, freezing water lines and causing other calamities around the region. One of the calamities was the idea of rolling blackouts, something we’ve rarely seen in our area and usually associated with soaring heat waves of the summer. For a high school classmate who lives in Fort Worth, the “rolling” blackout turned into nearly three days without power. She has a fireplace but I’m sure there are many in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who don’t have heat sources for their houses that don’t require electricity. 

There are many lessons we can learn—some on an individual/household level, some as a community—from these two periods of adversity. Taking an opportunity to learn from adversity has potential to yield at least some positive results from the experience of the last year. 

Using Video in a World of Virtual Meetings 

I’ve mentioned before being a professional photographer in Garden City, Kansas from the mid-1970’s through mid-1980’s BD (before digital.) Up until that time, the only way to capture moving images on something we called film was to use a movie camera. You would use the camera to record the scenes, then send the film to a processor and wait for the results. Upon return of the processed filmyou had to set up a projector to view the content. The television industry started using something called video tape in the late 1970’s but consumer video cameras (even that a professional photographer could afford) didn’t begin to come on the scene until the early 1980’s. The idea that moving images could be captured electronically on tape without the need for processing was magical to me, and still is. I was, and still am, captivated by working with video content. 

In that time frame, an ophthalmologist in Garden City was one of the first in the industry to use a single incision for cataract surgery, instead of previous norm of two incisions. He bought a state-of-the-art video camera and editing console so he could make videos to use for presentations around the country. Although I never entered the operating room to make close-up videos of eyeballs being cut, I did get involved in some of the editing. That experience, getting to use some expensive equipment, served to fuel my interest in video and it has been latent in the back of my mind ever since. 

I’ve always had an interest in having a video studio at the Lab and have accumulated some nice equipment over the past couple of years. Now, the pandemic is forcing us to learn to use it as we bring some of our classes back to life with a desire to use multiple camera video as a tool to make hybrid in-person/virtual classes more interesting than just another Zoom meeting. We are learning how to make and edit videos in response to the conditions of the pandemic, just one example of our learning from adversity. 

Better Prepared for Next Time 

For many of us, one of the things we should learn on a personal and family level after the cold snap is about making our homes more resistant to the effects of the cold and become better prepared for future rolling blackouts during adverse weather. 

For 100 years, we’ve allowed our local, state and even federal governments to regulate our utility companies. This has been to make sure we have reliable sources of gas and electricity. Something is wrong and the system has failed us with entire fields of electric wind generators that won’t operate in the cold. Wind generators in Alaska and even Antarctica operate with heaters built into their blades so the decision to build generators in the Midwest without the heaters just about had to be based on cost considerations. My guess is that anyone experiencing a rolling blackout in zero-degree weather would say they’d gladly pay a little more for their electricity to cover the cost of heated wind generator blades. 

Hopefully, the regulators and utilities will also learn from this and do better next time. An old axiom comes to mind. “If you depend on governments and large institutions to look out for your overall well-being, you will be at least partially disappointed. 

Learn New Stuff – Maybe Start a Business 

We’ve all had to learn new things and develop new ideas in doing our work and serving our customers. Some businesses have bolstered their efforts to sell online and learn how to better serve their customers even when contact is limited. 

There are now opportunities to start new businesses. I have a feeling the sale of whole-house generators will skyrocket. There are not enough plumbers, electricians and HVAC (heat and air) contractors in our area. 

I’ve mentioned before the toughness of the people that settled in this state in the mid-19th century. There was an extreme need to learn from adversity in the winters of that time when there were no utilities and little protection from the government. About the extended period without power, my Fort Worth classmate commented, “I’m a Kansan and I’m tough, I’ll survive just fine; my husband, not so much.” We should all learn as much as we can from the last year of adversity to be better prepared for what lies ahead. 

Jim Correll can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.eduThe views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Fab Lab ICC or Independence Community College. Archive columns and podcasts at 

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