Right Field

Compare and Contrast: Testing Toilets vs. Testing Healthcare.gov

Today’s article in the Washington Post on how little Healthcare.gov was tested before it went live. . .

As late as Sept. 26, there had been no tests to determine whether a consumer could complete the process from beginning to end: create an account, determine eligibility for federal subsidies and sign up for a health insurance plan, according to two sources familiar with the project.

. . . reminded me of this old Washington Post article on how much testing went in to the toilets at Nationals Park:

It was an important, if not highly skilled, job required of 175 volunteers yesterday at Nationals Park. They were present for a synchronized swooshing, a choreography of commodes to test whether the new stadium’s plumbing could handle the nearly steady flushing of more than 500 toilets and urinals.

From a deck near the top of the ballpark, Jim Howard readied his walkie-talkie and cellphone and eyed a series of schematic drawings, highlighted with Post-it notes showing where the dozens of volunteers were deployed. He laid his wristwatch in front of him for the timing of “Super Flush,” as the day was proudly billed on the ballpark’s massive scoreboard. The operation had to be meticulous.

At 11:48 a.m., he keyed the walkie-talkie with his command “to begin flushing.” Then every 90 seconds, Howard, project executive for the John J. Kirlin mechanical contracting company, ordered the next level’s crew into action. “Level 3 coordinator, instruct your people to begin flushing. Two-hundred level, continue flushing.”

Each bathroom had a code number, and the reports came crackling back over the walkie-talkie as Howard moved level by level through the 41,000-seat ballpark nearing completion on South Capitol Street SE. “Five-hundred-two flushing. Five-oh-three flushing.”

“Please instruct your people: every toilet every 10 seconds, every urinal every 15 seconds,” Howard reminded over the radio. “No more, no less.”

An office building under construction doesn’t need a test like yesterday’s Super Flush. Office workers answer the call of nature whenever nature calls — or when the boss permits. But sports arenas are different, and fans tend to want to make room for more beer and soda all at the same time during breaks in the game. Yesterday’s test would tell whether the sanitary system would overload and if pumps sending water to the upper decks could keep up with demand.

“It’s to simulate the seventh-inning stretch,” said Gary Grandchamp, president of the mid-Atlantic region for Kirlin, which installed the ballpark’s plumbing. “When we did FedEx,” he said, referring to the company’s work on the Redskins’ stadium, “it was to simulate halftime.”

Engineers work out how frequently each toilet and urinal should be flushed for the test to make it close to real conditions, thus the precision timing.

It seems the “best and brightest” in D.C. are the guys who check the toilets, not the ones who build websites.

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