Friday, August 5, 2011

Break the Glass in Case of Emergency

I've shared examples of how designs can influence people to behave in ways designers may not have expected, whether it's a device in a Coca-Cola tent or a ramp at a historic site.

In a public park in Chengdu, Sichuan (see here for some photos of the park) another design caught my eye simply because it was rather atypical and I was unsure of its purpose:

Most Chinese I've shown this photo to weren't sure why the fire hydrant would be covered in such a fashion.  One person thought that it's to prevent people from stealing water.  This wouldn't be an unheard of problem in China.  See here for a video (in Chinese) of an example in Nanjing, Jiangsu where trucks for cleaning roads were improperly taking water from a fire hydrant and creating problems for local residents.

One person thought the covering may be to prevent theft not of the water but the fire hydrant itself.   This may seem incredible but there are reports of such incidents in China.  It also happens in the US as in this case in Hawaii:
Officers arrested a 42-year-old man, a 33-year-old woman and a 17-year-old boy, who showed up at a recycling center with three stolen fire hydrants.

"They probably thought it had some brass and copper properties to it," a construction company owner, who didn't want to be identified, said. "But, you know, it's something that's worth over $500, and they probably maybe would have gotten $20."
And see here for another example -- a man allegedly stole dozens of fire hydrants in California.

While I could see how the covering may be enough of a hindrance to dissuade people from improperly using the water, I'm less sure it would stop someone who is already determined enough to steal a fire hydrant.  Also, if the purpose of the covering is to stop people from accessing the fire hydrant, it would seem to present a potential problem if there was a fire.  That is a fire hydrant, right?

However, I didn't test the covering to see if it was secure.  If it wasn't, maybe it's there just to keep the plants away.  If anyone in Chengdu can go check I'd appreciate hearing what you find.

Anyways, I remain unsure of the covering's purpose and I haven't seen any similar examples elsewhere.  But at least now I know more about the international art of fire hydrant stealing.