On Tuesday a request went out asking for people to point out “loopy rules and regulations”. I ignored it at first, with the politics involved, but soon after Federated Mountain Clubs asked via its Facebook page if this could be applied to some of DoC’s practices with signs in the back-country, especially safety signs.
I’ve written about the saturation of the back-country with safety signs previously, especially when writing about the Cave Creek Accident of 1995. 14 people died and 4 were seriously injured when a poorly constructed viewing platform collapsed. Many contributing factors were identified, but an underlying theme was that the 8 year old Department of Conservation had never been structured into a coherently functioning entity in many critical respects. This had contributed to design, approval and construction of the completely inadequate viewing platform by people who very possibly weren’t qualified to know that they didn’t know enough about what they were doing, or who had reason to assume that someone other than themselves was in charge. One consequence of the accident and follow-up investigations was a complete shake-up of DOC. In many ways, the outcome of the inquiry has helped to shape the modern back-country experience in New Zealand. An aspect of this shape which was noticed by users of the back-country in the years which followed was the sudden proliferation of signs.
The above photo demonstrates one of the more extreme cases of this standardisation. Mid King Biv in the Tararua Range is a 2 person shelter, in which it’s impossible to stand up. There’s a single door, which includes a giant FIRE EXIT sign. DOC’s other standard hut signs are also present. The standard DANGER sign warns about proper ventilation when cooking with gas, and another standard sign strongly warns naive visitors that the provided water is probably fine but visitors can choose to treat it if they want to. To rub it in, the “provided” water at Mid King Biv has nothing to do with the hut, and comes from a natural alpine stream nearby.
DOC’s standard Environmental Care Code sign is also present, but the limited space in the biv for posting signs seems to have resulted in the FIRE EXIT sign being attached directly over the top of it.