The ability to use technology has become an essential skill for the modern National Park Ranger. A ranger needs to be able to navigate the world of computers and related hardware including GPS units, digital radio systems, audio recording systems, digital video and photo cameras, surveillance equipment, AED (defibrillators), and a myriad of software programs to run them. Before I retired in 2008 I counted up more than twenty separate software programs that required some level of competency to do my job. Functions of these programs controlled payroll, employee scheduling, personnel actions, incident reporting, safety management, procurement, inventory, training, email, and more. The complexity was compounded by the fact that none of these programs functioned the same way, took different passwords, and could not share information.
It was not always this way and the National Park Service has been notorious for being slow to adopt technology.
In 1995 on the Blue Ridge Parkway a permit was issued to BMW to film a commercial for their new 3 Series sedan coming out that year. It was all very hush hush and they were very sensitive about anyone taking photos of the cars and selling them to car magazines. One day during the shooting the location director asked if he could go to our office to send a fax. I had to inform him that our District Office did not have a fax machine since our administrative staff at Headquarters 300 miles away in Asheville, North Carolina did not believe we needed one. He found it hard to believe that a government office would not have this common form of communication.
Several days later the filming was done and the crew moved on to their next location. When I returned to the office a service representative was there to install our new fax machine. As a thank you BMW wanted to donate a fax machine to us and arranged for installation, a one year service contract, and paper supply. Once the Park’s Administrators found out about this they became very angry and I received a nasty telephone call ordering me to pack the fax machine up and send it to Headquarters since we did not need it and they could use it in their office. There was also an issue with the rule that the Superintendent was the only person who could accept a donation.
I contacted the location director from the filming project thanked him for the donation and told him of my dilemma. He then faxed me a letter of donation stating that the machine had been a gift intended to be used in the District Office at Montebello, Virginia. Based on this statement the machine could only be used in our office and we were able to begrudgingly keep it.
Within a month the same people at Headquarters who did not want us to have a fax machine realized how convenient it was for them to request documents from us and get them quickly making their job easier. Shortly thereafter all the district offices along the length of the 469 mile long park had fax machines installed.
I felt proud of a bureaucratic victory but often entertained some regrets for the increased requests and shortening of deadlines for documents wanted by Headquarters staff. The fax machine seemed to increase our paperwork rather than make life easier.