BOFH: Do I smell burning toes, I mean burning toast?

This is not a drill

BOFH logo – telephone with devil's hornsEpisode 14 There's trouble in the state of Mission Control.

It has come to the attention of the Director that the PFY and I occupy a slice of priceless real estate complete with six full-height pivoting windows opening out to one of the few views which doesn't have a vast expanse of another building’s windows obstructing it.

And the Director covets it in much the same way as the Boss covets his neighbour's ass – something I really should warn HR about.

Anyway, the Director has been wandering around our area with a laser ruler trying to work out how best to separate the PFY and me from 35 square metres of Mission Control.

"It’s just a proposal," he says, "about a possible restructure. No decisions have been made yet."

"Whenever someone has to point out that 'No decisions have been made yet', it pretty much means that those decisions HAVE been made," I note.

"No, this is just a review process," he assures me. "We’re just looking at how to restructure the department."

"So job cuts then?" the PFY says, entering Mission Control and only hearing half the story.

"No, we’re simply looking at a physical restructure of the department." The Director says. "Nothing is set in stone."

"Ah, so you’ve already decided then?" the PFY asks.

"You’ll be given a chance to give your input," he snaps.

"Ah yes, the old locked filing cabinet in the disused basement toilet, marked 'Beware of the Leopard'? trick," the PFY shoots back.


"He means that we fully expect that our comments will be filed in the appropriate box – one which is just slightly larger than a desktop shredder and which has a power lead coming out of it."

"You’ll get the chance to have your say!" he snaps.

"I can say no now if you like."

"Look, it’s plain to see that you don’t need all this space – what with computers getting smaller and the cloud and stuff like that."

"Yes, but this is a 1970s building, originally constructed by the government when they were trying to prop up the steel and cement industries single-handedly – and this area was supposed to be the core recovery zone for the building."

"I don’t see how that’s relevant."

"The floor below us is TWO AND A HALF FEET of steel-reinforced concrete. The one above us is TWO feet thick. This area of the building was required to be standing at the end of the apocalypse, and the server room was designed to be right where it is now – you can still see the bracing rails for the original PDP-11s under the raised floor."


"So the company that bought the building before us ALSO put their server room in this location, as we did after them. It’s the only logical place."


"It’s the only place with access to the risers; everywhere else in the building is blocked off by masses of concrete structure. The only real ducts in the building lead from this space; everything else is sloppy catenary wires and poorly drilled holes."

"You could put everything in the basement. That has access to the risers."

"And the moment a fire main has an issue the basement fills with water it's game over, Player One," the PFY says.

"Could that ever really happen?"

"I could pretty much guarantee it," I say pointedly.

"Possibly even the week we’d moved there," the PFY says, nodding knowingly.

"Possibly even before we started the moving process," I add.

"Maybe even this afternoon," the PFY chips in.

"OK, so maybe the basement isn’t a good idea," The Director says hastily. "But surely you don’t need all this room. We could carve off half this office without a problem.

"I told you - this whole space was constructed as a standalone environment," I explain/lie.

"The server, comms and control rooms are completely detached 'fire separate' fire cell. Even the water that feeds our coffee machine is separate from the building supply. This is the one area meant to stay running, which is why we – and every occupant before us - put the entire critical infrastructure here. Every element of comms, building management, IT, security, climate control and all emergency systems come back to here. Every interlock, every emergency staging procedure – it all comes back here. You just can’t move it."

"Well I think it's a waste of space. We should be able to get some of it back."

"You assume we want all this space," I say. "Honestly, do you think we WANT to be on the second floor with sunlight and unobstructed views of the pub across the road? Do you think we LIKE the floor-to-ceiling pivoting windows which can be swung wide open in summer?"

"Hang on," the Director counters. "If this is a fire cell – as you claim – then where’s the separate fire exit? I know you need one because the architects said we’d have to include one if the exit path were too long."

"So nothing's been decided but you’ve been talking to an architect?" I ask.

"In any case, the fire exit is there," the PFY says – pointing to an EXIT sign above the middle window.

"What, you’re expected to jump out the WINDOW?!"

"It’s only the second floor!" I retort. "If you aim for the right parked car you’d probably walk away with a few bruises, maybe a minor fracture."

"Nothing old or Soviet Block," the PFY chips in helpfully. "The metal's too thick."

"I think you're…"


The Director’s impending rant is interrupted by a fire alarm.

"!" he burbles wordlessly.

"No need to panic," I say.

"Shouldn’t we evacuate?" the Director says, jiggling the handle to Mission Control to no avail.

"We can’t," the PFY says. "Like we told you - it’s a completely separate fire cell. The moment the fire alarms go off the doors lock."


"Yeah – to stop the proles trying to get in – a bit like what those government nuclear bunkers have," the PFY says, swinging open the window of our fire exit. “They lock out the roof, the basement and the IT fire cell. Oh, and the storeroom on the 6th floor where they keep the boardroom booze.”

"But we can’t get out!" he gasps.

"Of course we can. We can get out here," The PFY says gesturing out the window.

"I’m not jumping to the ground from here!" he gasps.

"You’re not expected to jump to the ground," he says. "You’ve only got to jump to the fire pole - yet another relic of the original building construction."

"Oh!" he says with relief. "I’d not noticed that."

He's also not noticed the 100lb fishing line tripwire stretched tautly about an inch above the floor just inside the window, but I don’t feel the need to point that out at this juncture.

"In any case, you don’t need to worry about that,” the PFY says, to my surprise. "This was just a drill. >tappity<"

"Oh," the Director says as the Mission Control door opens.

"So I assume you’ve evaluated our input into the proposed changes and seen some merit in it?" I ask.

"Yes, yes, it’s certainly given me something to think about," he says, making for his office before we have another fire drill.

… Later that day …

"Honestly, it’s like he doesn’t even listen to us," the PFY says, putting his headphones down on his desk.

>tappity< >JANGLE<

"The bit about all Comms coming through here?" I ask.


"So he called the architect back, updated him and asked for a better plan?"


"And he’s gone to the basement to get his car?"


"And realised that you get locked in the basement during a fire alarm?"


"And… he’s about to find out why we don’t put server rooms in the basement?"

"Yep," the PFY says, as he turns the key on the basement deluge control…

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