Originally posted to the Sidebar by "jetcitywoman"...

"A Bit More Dire" started me reminiscing about the dispatch center where I used to work. I LOVED working there and hated to leave. It was a consolidated county 911 dispatch center, where consolidated means that they had all the dispatchers for the county and every city — fire and police — together in one room. Working off one system. They were busy, one police dispatcher for the largest city typically worked/monitored abour 30 units (cops) at a time during the afternoons. It was hectic, dynamic, and doing the computer support for them was terrible at the time, but after I'd left I really missed it. Here are the highlights.

We were located in the basement of an old county administrative building. No windows, fully below ground. It was in central California where it routinely gets over 100 degrees in July and August. Because we were downtown, we somehow fell under the utility company's umbrella for downtown businesses that got their power turned off in the afternoons when the electricity consumption was "too high" because of everybody running their air conditioners. Our computer room had both very large UPSes and generators, which as you can see got frequent live testing. They worked great. What wasn't so great was that nobody in the county deemed the room that the dispatchers were in as important enough to be on either UPS or generator. So yeah, blackout conditions in the dispatcher's room. Nobody in the county management cared that the dispatchers suddenly had to scramble for flashlights and cell phones to call their units with. Stupid, stupid. Since the server room had great power backups, the server was happily running away with no users.

Once when the city utility workers were doing some roadwork on our street, they perforated a gas main right out front. They evacuated all the county employees except for us basement dwellers. How can you evacuate 911, after all? After about an hour, the gas was actually flowing down our parking ramp into the underground parking area next to our back door, they finally evacuated us too. They called a nearby other dispatch agency to take over our 911 calls (there is actually a switch in the phone system for that), notified the units that they were being evacuated and we all had to leave. That was really freaky because in the 6 years I'd worked there, the dispatcher's room was NEVER unoccupied. Even in the pitch black power failures with no running equipment, there were people in the room furiously trying to coordinate things.

One day one of my coworkers went into the server room for some routine reason... to change some cables or whatever. Popped up a floor tile and saw water. About two inches of water. Server was still running, nothing had failed. We scrambled to get rid of the water and make sure everything kept running. That was freaky too, because we had miles of data and power cables under the floor, much of which was actually in the water. After we got plumbers to fix the leak (broken pipe on the first floor), and dry the place out again, the only casualty was a very large extension cable. It had apparently been submerged long enough that it had grown "hair" — corrosion, and yet still supplied power. We replaced it anyway.

There was the day when I was still new and the only one on duty at the time, when a terminal server blew out. It was providing access to the server for a couple of the dispatchers, a couple police departments, fire departments, etc. Since I was new, my first reaction was a stupid and naive fit of denial. I put my head into the cabinet (it was dark so I had trouble seeing back there) and pushed the little orange button. The fireball was pretty impressive, right in my face. I wasn't hurt, but it did confirm that I needed to just bite the bullet and swap the thing out. Oh, and none of the other equipment was harmed, either.

Some of you may remember when central California had serious floods some years back. Our agency was of course required to coordinate the emergency responders. They pulled together an emergency operations command center in the conference center next to the dispatcher's room. We had everybody from county secretaries manning citizen information phones to police and fire commanders organizing rescues to the BATF stomping around looking important. We never had a single problem with the computer system the whole 4 days that this went on, but they weren't taking any chances. Me and my 3 coworkers had to go on 12-hour rotating shifts in order to be there in case of problems. Ok, I understand, really. But it was really boring playing solitaire for 4 hours at a time, we got tired of chatting and walking around "for visibility". We slept fitfully in our desk chairs, and I curled up on the floor in my cubicle. I've never had sex with a coworker, but that's the only time I've ever spent the night with a coworker also... right there in our office. I jokingly told him I always imagined it would be... better.

So yeah, that was an interesting period in my career. In 6 years we'd directly experienced floods, a gas leak, one evacuation, many blackouts, and one minor explosion.