Surveillance Cameras and the Dehydrated Deliveryman

Posted by Adam Kolber on 04/11/2005 at 08:53 AM

You may be familiar with this Kafkaesque story about a delivery man in New York who got stuck in an elevator without food and water for three days. See here in the NYT before the link expires. Else, see here or here. The story has lots of twists and turns, not the least of which is the fact that, even though the police were “diligently” searching the building, the deliveryman was not spotted on a surveillance camera in the stuck elevator. Here’s an excerpt from the NYT:

Mr. Chen has said that he called repeatedly on the intercom over the weekend, even speaking to security personnel on five or six occasions. A spokesman for the building’s manager, Don Miller, said the first anyone was aware of him was on Tuesday morning.

New questions over the state of the elevator surveillance arose yesterday. For instance, even after Mr. Chen[‘s] call for help was heard Monday morning, security personnel looking for him on the monitor could not see him, Mr. Miller said.

The video quality is far from superior, according to a reporter’s brief examination of the monitors yesterday. There are three monitors in the security room, two of which are divided into 16 images apiece. One of those images, slightly smaller than a playing card, shows Car No. 2 in a dimly lit feed.

After you read the article, I think you’ll see that it’s hard to tell what happened and what version of the story is most credible. It will be interesting to see, however, whether any sort of cognitive bias led to a failure to recognize the deliveryman in the surveillance cameras or led to a failure to pay adequate attention to the cameras in the first place.

Copyright 2005 by Adam Kolber
All rights reserved.

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