Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fire Alarms and Broken Teeth

Thursday around noon there was a fire drill. First the siren started blaring, then some guy got on the office loudspeaker and sounded like he was panicking, "there is an emergency, leave the building, this is not a drill, this is a real emergency, you must leave the building immediately.".

Then the members of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) started running all over in their fluorescent orange hats to get everyone out and to unlock the padlocks on the emergency exits (naturally, this is India, they're padlocked for security…). The exit for my part of the office is the central stairwell behind the elevators, so I went that way where around 500 people from both wings of the office had to merge through the door that's only barely wide enough for two people at once and eight floors down the stairs that are such polished smooth stone, covered in dust and having hardly more friction than ice, so no one can very fast and safe down them, all while people on other floors, uninvolved in our drill were working their way upwards…

Outside it was high noon without a cloud in the sky and they kept us at the assembly point for around 20 minutes. Whoever the guy was who was in charge of the drill he had a bullhorn and berated us for the whole time about how slow and how bad we were exiting the building. He said we took eight minutes, and in a real emergency anyone not out in two would be dead. Then he asked us to look for the person who sits to our right, and the person who sits to our left and if we didn't see both of them to let a member of the ERT know.

He said "I watched you come out, many of you were on your mobile phones coming down the stairs, if this was a real fire and you slowed down to talk on your phones the only thing you should've been telling your friends is good bye".

And he said "I don't see any coffee cups this year" followed by a number of people raising theirs, to which he said "how can you bring your coffee cups? If you slow down in a fire to bring your coffee cups you'll never need your coffee again, you'll be dead!"

He started yelling about ladies not taking off their high heeled shoes and slowing the whole group down on the steps, and then somehow segued into something about motorcycle helmets and car seatbelts, which I didn't quite understand.

When we were finally finished then we had to get all the people back up to the 8th floor… After twenty minutes in the hot sunshine, with no shade at all, I started getting a pounding migraine so I didn't think the stairs would be an option, or it would just much, much worse. A friend and I waited at the elevator bank till five or six elevators came and went before the one we stood next to finally opened and we got in.

Then being hot, tired and with a headache it took a while before I could get back on track with my work. I'd sort of begun a major refactoring Thursday before the fire drill with a lot of details to remember, only to come in Friday morning to realize all the details that slipped my mind due to the interruption.

For some reason it reminded me of an incident at at my last company, First Insight at our Hillsboro, Oregon office. In September 1999 there was a lot of tension as the then main network administrator was on his way out, with me the next in line for the responsibilities. The owners of the company said "there's been a security breach" so they were getting rid of the network admin. The network admin said they paid him a lot of money to leave and not say anything, but he hinted that if I knew what he knew about the owners I'd be able to blackmail them very well, too... I never found out what it was, of course and I have only speculation with no proof of anything.

That aside, on one of the admin's last days, shortly after I left the office around 3pm (6am to 3pm shift...) there was a fire alarm. A little while after I got home the boss called me and asked if he could bring the company's file server to my house because it's been damaged and he suspected the network admin, who wasn't fully out of the company then, had done it so he didn't trust him.

He brought the computer to my apartment where I set it up on the pool table. I got an explanation of what happened...

Intel was preparing the office below us for one of their groups to move in, and the construction workers drilled, with the dust setting off the smoke detectors. With a potential fire, not a drill, the boss asked several of the guys in the office to take the file server out to his car to keep it safe. However, several of the guys, and the big dent on the server's case, say that they accidentally dropped it in the parking lot.

When it was determined that there was no fire, just dust, and the building was clear for everyone to go back in, they brought the server up, but it wouldn't boot anymore. That was when the boss called me up and brought the computer over. I did a quick check and it wasn't going to be a quick, instant fix, and I estimated it would take me hours to get it going again.

Later in the evening another coworker popped by to help. For a snack we brought out the bag of Laxminarayan chiwda that I'd picked up in India on a vacation earlier in the year. We worked on the computer, speculated on the "security breach" and munched on the snacks.

Until I was chewing and chewing and found a much harder piece of chiwda than all the others. I mentioned it to him and then spit out a small, black rock. To this day two molars on the left side of my mouth, an upper and a lower one, are chipped, with the chips in the two lined up from chewing the rock I didn't expect in my food...

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