Tuesday, October 26, 2004


The War On Terrorism, Up Close And Personal.

Some people maintain that the events of 9/11 changed nothing, others argue that it changed everything.

Exhibit #932 in the "it changed everything" category: Pentagon computer alerts.

For anyone working at the Pentagon, or on any headquarters server, we get these little flashing yellow pop-ups from time to time, each alert warning us of security situations and considerations.

99.9% of the time, these alerts are meaningless, often even stupid. Usually, they announce funeral flyovers at Arlington Cemetery (i.e., don't be scared of the jets flying over the building). Every once in a while we'll get weather advisories, especially during tornado season. My personal favorite are the traffic alerts ("There's a jumper on the Wooodrow Wilson Bridge-- find an alternate way home").

However, the most common alerts are false alarms related to fire alarms going off, or suspicious packages found in Pentagon hallways.

Sitting here tonight at work, I just got a priceless message, one for the ages (locations changed to protect security, and prevent embarrassment):
This is a Pentagon advisory. There is an incident in a restroom vicinity [deleted]. Pentagon Police and the PFPA Hazmat unit are on scene at this time investigating the situation. The Pentagon Building Management Office PBMO is aware of the situation. Please follow any instructions from PPD officers. Thank you for your cooperation.
An incident in a restroom?

Requiring the Hazmat unit??

What, did someone forget to flush?!?

Thankfully, nothing came of the matter, as a few minutes later the "all clear" message went out over the computers:
This is a Pentagon advisory. The incident reported earlier in a restroom vicinity [deleted] has been cleared by the Pentagon Police. The substance found in the restroom was dust from drywall material related to construction in that area. Thank you for your cooperation.
Drywall dust.

Hey, I'm as afraid of bioterror as the next guy. But drywall dust? In a bathroom?

I mean, yeah, I *guess* it could be the 'thrax, but wouldn't you, say, mail that stuff? Or, at least walk it into an office? Or hell, sprinkle it with the Parmesan cheese at the cafeteria salad bar?

I'm glad the Pentagon Po-Po are looking out for all of us, I genuinely am. Goodness knows it has to be a hard job at times. But these constant alarms are really taking on the nature of crying wolf. One of these days, I fear that the alert may be real-- and of course, that'll be the day that everyone had finally seen one too many of these alerts to pay prudent enough attention to it.

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