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This can’t be a real bomb threat: You've called a modem, not a phone

Security was nonetheless very, very, interested in hearing this comms engineer tell his tale

On-Call Welcome once again to On-Call, The Register's weekly compendium of tales from readers who were asked to deal with IT oddities and mostly emerged unscathed.

This week, meet "Don" who in the late 1980s worked as a data comms engineer in the datacenter of a UK-based facilities management company. These were the days of dialup, when going online meant using modems and phone lines rather than dedicated data connections.

So Don was rather surprised one day to hear a phone ringing as he stalked the racks, because the kit there was dedicated to modems.

He picked up the call anyway.

"The caller only said 'BOMB. BOMB. BOMB.' with a strong Irish accent," don recalled.

At the time this was the sort of thing that needed to be taken seriously.

Don didn't, initially. He told On-Call he heard himself reply "Tiddly-Om Pom-Pom" for reasons defying explanation, but found it rather witty at the time.

He then engaged in a conversation with the caller and tried to establish where he thought he'd called, because calling a number assigned to a modem seemed an odd way to convey a threat.

"I explained it was sheer luck anyone answered because it was in a very noisy area and I just happened to be walking by," Don explained.

"Eventually I told him I refused to believe there was a bomb here and if he had genuinely planted a bomb somewhere he should find out the right number and call in a warning ASAP before it went off."

Don then hung up and called emergency services to report the very odd conversation.

"Five minutes later as I was walking out to reception with a 'you'll never believe what just happened' story, three of the biggest security officers I've ever seen came in and politely asked to speak to me."

For the next half hour, Don was asked to describe every detail he could recollect from the call.

"They even asked for a physical description of the caller. It's amazing the amount of that kind of information you pick up without actually seeing someone," Don told On-Call.

And that was the end of the matter. No bombs were found. Don was not questioned again.

But to this day, whenever Don hears a mention of a bomb threat on TV or in a film he replies "Tiddly-Om Pom-Pom" and smiles.

Has your work ever been interrupted by a security scare? If so, click here to send email to On-Call and we may feature your story in this slot on a future Friday. ®

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