When, at the age of 16, Frank Abagnale was put before a judge and asked to choose which of his divorcing parents he would live with, he bolted from the courtroom, ran away from home, and began the youth of white-collar crime later fictionalized in the book and film, “Catch Me If You Can.”
To get enough money to survive on the streets of New York, he modified his driver’s license to appear 10 years older; passed himself off as a doctor, lawyer and airline plot; and eventually forged checks totaling $2.5 million before he was arrested and served jail time in France, Switzerland and the U.S.
Abagnale told his true story at the Yokogawa Users Group Conference, held at the Renaissance hotel in Orlando as Hurricane Matthew crawled slowly up Florida’s east coast. The Orlando forecast included winds up to 80 mph, so along with the regular morning safety moment, Yokogawa personnel informed us of the potential danger. The hotel is engineered to withstand the high winds, but if objects started hurtling through the glass, we would take refuge in the Crystal Ballroom, which despite its name, is reinforced to function as a hurricane shelter.
The hotel was well staffed and stocked with food and beverages, and has a back-up generator with three days of fuel. The conference wrapped up an hour early, five hours before the airport would close due to rising winds. If we couldn’t go, we could stay.
In the end, Matthew’s path was far enough from Orlando to keep winds below 40 mph, so we didn’t use the back-up power or the Crystal Ballroom.
It was great to have a choice and be able to make an informed decision. Hundreds of Haitians and too many people in North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida didn’t have that privilege, and perished in the winds and floods. News reports say many had no place else to go, so they stayed and died. Others tried to leave too late, and were taken as they went. Some thought their shelter would stand the storm, and were wrong. More than a few just wanted to see what would happen.
Abagnale committed his crimes between the ages of 16 and 21. After years in prison, he was partially released to consult as an insider white-collar crime expert for the FBI, where he has served for the rest of his life. Now in his 60s, he said he would not have turned to crime if he had seen any other way to survive.
“I have been married for over 25 years and I am the proud father of three sons,” Abagnale said. “Age brings wisdom and fatherhood changes one’s life completely. I consider my past immoral, unethical and illegal. It is something I am not proud of. I am proud that I have been able to turn my life around and in the past 25 years, helped my government, my clients, thousands of corporations and consumers deal with the problems of white-collar crime and fraud.”
In Orlando, we had the resources and information we needed to make a decision that worked well for us. Those who Matthew killed did not, and at age 16, Abagnale did not. He saw his world as collapsing, and chose to cope by taking advantage of others and the institutions of a society of ignorance and trust.
As John Rezabek describes in his October 2016 column, process control includes the science of helping human beings make informed decisions, and automating those decisions whenever possible. An alarm is a mechanism for requiring a decision that hasn’t or can’t be automated.
As we approach the U.S. 2016 elections, alarms are sounding. Thanks to an abundance of information, we have the resources we need to make good decisions. The consequences of the wrong choice may be dire. Let’s get out and vote.