Ooops, wrong switch!

You try to protect your mainframe room but dangers still lurk, sometimes in the form of an absentminded security guard.

In 1995, before I began my IT career, I briefly worked in physical security for a national insurance company. I monitored the cameras, logged reports from patrol officers, made keycards for new employees, and generally dealt with whatever came up.

During my short time there, a number of my co-workers were fired. One liked to sleep in her patrol car in the one corner of the lot the cameras couldn't see after dark. Another vanished for hours in the middle of the night, sleeping in a closet (according to some). He was eventually caught on video using the fitness center during his shift. A third was fired for actually doing his job; he shone his flashlight into a car where he saw movement, expecting a thief, but found the CIO in a rather compromising position with... well, not with his wife.

I have many stories from that job, including a report that ladybugs were taking over the third floor stairwell, but the best story is about a man who was usually unintelligible, and if you ask me, usually stoned. I'll call him Jacob. He was a foot patrol officer.

Among the foot patrol officer's duties: visit each office area twice per shift, check outside doors, and check several key areas 3-4 times per shift. One key area was the mainframe room. It contained machines that ran the entire company. Every policy, every customer record, billing data, even payroll was handled in this room.

The mainframe room was about 2000 square feet, with big automatic doors on either end, which were naturally tied in to the security system. To enter, you swiped a key card and entered a PIN. To exit, you tapped a button about 6 feet from the door and it would swing open. But if you just turned the doorknob to exit, a silent alarm would activate. If not disabled within 60 seconds, the alarm would go to the police for armed dispatch.

Jacob always used the doorknob. For weeks we complained to him, tired of scrambling when he tripped the alarm. One day, he used a switch. One not near either door, but behind a glass panel, 40 feet from either door. The switch was protected by a flip-cover. The kind you see in movies when they're arming a torpedo or a warhead or something.

Can you guess what the button did? Yes, it was the emergency power shutoff! The entire room went dark instantly, as did the entire company. Luckily, it was after business hours.

The mainframe engineers were not so lucky; they spent the rest of the night getting things back online.

As for Jacob, he was fired immediately and banned from all company properties for life.

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