""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.""
Then he did a back flip.
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, …
I used to work for a defence contractor that made, among other things, high-explosive naval cannon shells. One day we got a call warning us that someone thought there was a bomb on site, to which the wag who answered the phone said: "Yes, we have thousands".
Turned out it was in the garden of a house the other side of the fence, and on police investigation it was in fact a BT engineer's toolbox.
A physical description.
From a phone call.
There is no way anyone can infer anything physical from a voice over radio or phone. I cannot begin to count the times have I heard someone's voice on the radio, only to be shocked when I found a pic or a YouTube video featuring that person.
Some people sound younger than they are, some sound much more mature, and being fat or not is not something you can detect by voice alone (let's not even mention height).
Most of the time, the one and only physical trait you can possibly derive just by voice is whether that person is male or female (and even then, it can be tricky).
Short answer : that was a stupid question.
I'm a soft spoken bloke, and I've long given up correcting anyone who calls me "ma'am"/"miss" on the phone. It's not a big deal to me personally, and it just wastes so much time listening to them getting embarrassed and apologising.
I once called, I forget, a utility company, and the bill was in my wife's name so they insisted they had to speak to her. Obviously, I just said I was her, and knew all the details to confirm. Idiot on the other end said they didn't believe I was her because 'you sound like a man', to which the only possible response was 'how dare you!'
I've long given up correcting anyone who calls me "ma'am"/"miss" on the phone.
I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!
In a similar vein, not long ago someone was how he'd had (business related) phone conversations with someone with a really strong Jamaican accent and mannerisms - so had formed a mental image of what he looked like. Then one day they were to meet - so this person went to pick up this obviously black person. While wondering if the chap was late, some white guy comes up and in full Jamaican introduced himself.
Building bombs is easy.
I remember an army instructor teaching me and a bunch of other Officer Cadets.
"Any idiot can build a bomb. Not so many can do it without killing themself."
We now know that this was when our spooks were swapping out 30 minute timers with 3 second ones in IRA deliveries.
"There is no way anyone can infer anything physical from a voice over radio or phone. I cannot begin to count the times have I heard someone's voice on the radio, only to be shocked when I found a pic or a YouTube video featuring that person."
Doesn't your second sentence contradict your first sentence? People infer images from audio _all the time_. It's amusing in the same way as when they believe they know what someone else is thinking. Lack of documented success does not stop them from doing it again and again.
Reminds me of a guy I worked beside in the late 80's, when there were still things like "singles" sections in papers with contact numbers.
He said he'd always try to get at least one big laugh when speaking with a potential date.
Depending on how a persons laugh sounds, he believed he could tell how thin.. or not they were.
If he's alive today, I'm guessing he's still single.
I was on a conference call a few times with a guy with a Glaswegian accent so strong that Rab C Nesbit would need subtitles, but his name implied he wasn't the traditional carrot-topped kilt wearer
I once got to meet him in person... a 6ft plus bewhiskered and turbaned Sikh
Indeed. I can train a PRNG to generate a picture of the suspect from a voice recording, and I'm willing to bet I could sell it to numerous police departments.
Hell, it could generate one from a description of a crime scene. Think how useful that could be.
It's like reverse physiognomy, but without all the rigorous pseudoscience.
When I was at school, in Belfast, we occasionally had to evacuate due to bomb scares. One time three six form boys decided they wanted an afternoon off classes so they phoned in a bomb threat. They used the payphone in the school so we did not evacuate. The school managed to identify who they were but they did get the afternoon off classes. Unfortunately, for them, they spent the afternoon at Castlereagh Holding Centre having a chat with the police.
About twenty years ago, I would now and then see unusually large numbers of office workers standing idly near an intersection in downtown Washington, DC. Eventually I read in the newspaper that they had been evacuated from a building because of bomb scares, and that the police had arrested two men. One worked in the building, and it was agreed between them that the other would call in a bomb scare on days that they wished to take an extended lunch break.
I went to a school in Aldershot, where most of the kids were army brats. We had regular bomb scares - so thanks to where we were and the close connection to the military they were always taken very seriously. Word would quite often get around afterwards about who had phoned in what was inevitably a hoax, and the culprits dealt with very severely.
I was amused by my form tutor's reaction to one bomb scare. The caller had stated when the bomb would go off, so he suggested we evacuate five minutes before that time rather than immediately. The other teacher he suggested this to gave him a very funny look, and we were then told to evacuate straight away.
The amount of Army in Aldershot is now shockingly small.
My mother came from Aldershot, and we lived either there or in Farnham just over the border with Surrey for all of my life up to leaving home after Uni.
My Father worked his last job before retiring as a civilian lecturer at the Army School of Catering, and was entitled to use the Catering Corps Officers Mess (he had an equivalent rank of either Captain or Major, can't remember which, just so his 'position' ih the organisation was understood by the squaddies). There were blocks of these messes, about 5 of them, all looking the same, next to each other.
One day in 1972, one of them was bombed by the IRA at lunch time, and the news article on TV showed indistinct pictures that could have been any of them, and they did not say which mess it was. In those days, before mobile phones, we had to wait for him to come home before we knew he was safe. Was not c comfortable afternoon.
It was only after the event that that it was released that the mess was the one for 16 Para. If they had said that earlier, we would not have had such a nervous wait.
My wife used to be a teacher, and at one time was giving adult education classes in Borden (small town south of Aldershot that, at the time, also hosted a significant army camp). One day she was interrupted by someone who suggested that she might like to go outside because "there is a problem with your car". The problem turned out to be Army Bomb Disposal - my wife had parked about 100 yards from the main gate of one of the barracks, and (while this was perfectly legal since there were no parking restrictions) the gate guard had got nervous and called it in as a threat. The Army Bomb Disposal guys had rolled up and were about to perform a controlled detonation on the car to display any devices; fortunately they stopped when my wife identified herself as the car's driver.
Oh yes, the car she nearly got blown up was actually mine!
This post has been deleted by its author
Sometimes times my fingers type words phonetically, even when I *know* the correct spelling
Oh yes, that can be a bit embarrassing - BTGTTS.
Takes me back to school, and one term I think the RE (religious education) teacher wanted an easy life - so he made us learn 1 Corinthians 13 off by heart. Then for the exam we had to write it out. And just like you describe, you say it in your head and your hand (this being back in the days of pens and pencils - for the youngsters, we used to use those and pieces of paper to do stuff, or things called exercise books) turns the sounds into words on the page.
There's a bit where it says "not quick to take offence", and I guess you know where this is heading. During the next term, he was marking them during a lesson while we were doing something equally easy for him. He paused, called out my name, and them pointed out that I'd written "not quick to take a fence" - which I seem to recall made my classmates quite amused.
"The Army Bomb Disposal guys had rolled up and were about to perform a controlled detonation on the car to display any devices; fortunately they stopped when my wife identified herself as the car's driver"
Sorry, have to call that one out. EOD would not perform a "controlled detonation on the car to disable any devices", this is only performed on the device itself. If there is nothing identified, then there is nothing to neutralise. Otherwise, which bit of the vehicle would they neutralise...
Back in my school days we had a cluster of bomb threats one year. The school worked with the police and local phone company to trace the calls (not trivial with the phone tech of the time, I think you had to be ready to trace when the time came).
Eventually they found the source. Several of my classmates would skip school and hang out at the apartment two of them shared. One day they called in a threat like they had several times before. Shortly after hanging up, several members of our local law enforcement community invited themselves in.
While the cops were there, they happened to discover that the apartment was furnished with quite a few stolen items (TV, VCR, etc), so they got hit with charges of theft as a bonus!
When I was in school, we typically got three or four bomb threats a year. It was always assumed that it was somebody wanting part of the day off, but it tended to work. They'd evacuate the school until a few minutes after whatever time the bomb was supposed to go off, then let us back in.
The phone system in town was too antiquated to actually trace a call unless somebody happened to be at the switch while it was connected, which was almost never, and the callers were never stupid enough to stay on the line longer than was needed to call in the threat.
Nobody was ever all that alarmed about it, after all none of the schools I went to had actually been blown up since 1958, and then it was just the one, and the racist scum were at least considerate enough to do it in the middle of the night.
"When I was at school, in Belfast, we occasionally had to evacuate due to bomb scares."
Same in West Germany. I was an army brat in schools with names like Paderborner First School or Jerboa school (Jerboa - "Red Rats"). All the school scares were fakes but we would still have to line up on the playground first and then file off to somewhere else. If there was a bomb we would have been lasserated by glass well before we had moved off the playground but that's the stupidity of authority in a near war situation. Even the IRA weren't stupid enough to kill a large number of children.
My Dad was an ATO (RAOC) and went on to command a lot of ammo depots back in the day and we were shown on demo days what happens to a Merc (no idea why but the demo car was always a Merc - old taxis perhaps) when a device goes off in the rear wheel well.
The demo device is about the size of a cotton reel. You put them in the rear wheel well because that's close to the fuel tank. The back of the car bucks and then it explodes and there is some fall out - the bonnet takes quite a while to come down. The real deal is a good bit bigger and turns the car into shrapnel. The engine block becomes several missiles. Rather unpleasant.
E Mess in Rheindahlen (near Monchengladbach) had a bomb left outside and it made quite a mess, early '80s I think. A mate of my Dad's was on duty and I remember him telling someone that a crane was on the way to get their car out of a tree. The car had lost all glass but was fine apart from that, even the tyres were OK. Weird.
Even the IRA weren't stupid enough to kill a large number of children.
Indiscriminate acts certainly don't exclude children.
1974 Tower of London bombing. There were plenty of children there, I know, as I was one of them. Granted, the IRA did not claim the attack, but who else was it?
 20 minutes before detonation I'd been at the gun carriage involved. The scene was absolute chaos. There were no procedures in place for situations like this in the early 70s, not even at the Tower. Evacuation was initiated by a scaffolding gang.
We had a bomb scare at work about 12 or so years ago. I was working at a bank and banks weren't particularly popular at the time for various reasons. I was watching as people were spoken to quietly before they exited the building and eventually they reached our bank of desks and advised us to leave the building. So we did. Then we mingled about outside the building chatting about what was going on and I looked up at the building we'd just evacuated. With its massive glass front. Pondering how much damage that glass would do if it did explode outwards at most of the staff from the building...
Evidently, someone else came to the same conclusion and we were ushered off to a nearby park area out of the blast radius, just in case.
Few hours later, the alert was declared a hoax and we got back into the building, although a number of folks had just headed off home by that point. The "bomb evacuation" procedures were sent round the company to make sure folk knew to not hang about outside the potentially explosive offices...
a few years ago they had a fire alarm test and everyone trooped downstairs and mingled around the entrance to the car park.
"You're all dead!"
The safety rep then gave a lecture on the need to keep the entrance clear for emergency vehicles and, the the case of a bomb or explosion, to keep clear in case of flying debris
Reminds me 10 years ago during a fire alarm I walked down stairs to be blocked by someone saying "I'm a raging infurno, go another way", which was bad as everyone else behind me had to turn around.
Afterwards I printed off some pictures of Fire clipart and stuck it to a cardboard box to make it a tad more realistic the next time.
At a previous employer, I got told off in front of all the support staff because the site manager had found the IT office locked when he swept the building (it was an "unscheduled fire drill" - i.e. a disgruntled teenager hitting a few break-glass callpoints as he stormed out of the school after being asked to do something he didn't want to do - so had to be treated as a real fire).
I pointed out that I hadn't been in the IT office when the alarm went off and asked whether, in future, they would like me to a) leave it unlocked at all times and accept that expensive things would get damaged and/or go missing regularly or b) on hearing the alarm, return to the office and unlock it before leaving the building.
It was rather grudgingly agreed that I could continue to lock the office when I left it and would not be required to go back and unlock it in the event of a fire alarm. I think the intention was that I should not lock it as I left if I was evacuating but I continued to do so anyway.
> I got told off for using a break-glass fire exit during a drill - because those were only meant to be used in the case of real fires.
Yup, had that too at ICI. We were in the smoko (afternoon/morning tea room) room. Fire alarm goes off. We head out thru the emergency exit (padlocked with the key in a glass box inside the fence line). Day or so later, head of security is trying berate us for going thru the locked gate. We countered it by going over his head and saying "alarm was going. Do we head back in towards the factory to get out the normal gate, or do we head off site asap?" COO had to agree with us, and told Security to pull their head in. PLUS it wasn't a drill - smoke had been detected in the QC lab, and one of the tech hit the alarm.
We still argued we didn't know if it was real or not, and even if it had been a drill, we did the right thing.
In less severe circumstances* I had this argument with the higher ups ( and I was risk assessment trained). A fire practice that doesn't emulate the real thing is worse than useless, it may actually make the situation much worse. Staff who are used to taking an inadvisable route out will likely do exactly that in a real emergency, because that's the escape route they'd been trained to follow.. Which could mean filing back into the core of the building, through to the front internal staircase and into the path of a fire/smoke.
*We'd been told not to use the external fire escape steps at the back of the building except in a real fire, as they were iron and narrow. So there was a small risk that someone might slip....
My first job as in the offices over a paint warehouse. If the alarm went, you got out. Never worry about whether it was a drill or not.
There was hell to pay when we found a fire exit padlocked.
An office I used to frequent in Hemel Hempstead had signs on the exits claiming "THIS DOOR IS ARMED". Luckily my visits never coincided with any fire drills.
> The safety rep then gave a lecture on the need to keep the entrance clear for emergency vehicles and, the the case of a bomb or explosion, to keep clear in case of flying debris
Reminds me of working for ICI Paints - fire evacuation was to the staff car park... until us techies pointed out to manglement that the car park was right next to the tank farm - 100s of 1000s of llitres of solvents etc. Last place you'd want to be in an actual fire.
Our lot had a sensibly distant fire evac spot, but we were told that for bomb threats you needed to evac a much larger minimum distance, away from any other likely targets as well.
At the time, the only suitably-distant spot they could find near our city-centre office was a cemetery, leading to some morbid jokes about how, if even this proved not to be far enough away, we'd be saving some time on the burials.
For a few years I worked at BBC TV Centre in London, a location that had had a bomb go off outside (4th March 2001).
The process for bomb threats/scares was different from fires. For fires you'd go outside to the appropriate meeting location. For bombs the building had areas designated as Internal Shelter Areas. These were areas inside the building, away from windows. Exactly to avoid the issue of people going out and into a location of greater danger should there be a blast. The only time I remember needing to use this for real was due to an unexploded WW2 bomb unearthed during the Westfield development across the road. (though on that occasion a colleague was on his way out and heard what was just about to happen, so phoned through suggesting we all got packed up quickly and went home to save being stuck outside the office just when we would have wanted to go home)
I think it's rather dangerous to excuse all actions of someone just because of what they publicly stood for. For example, was Abu Asvat's execution not terrorism? His 'crime' being that he had provided an objective account of the fatal beating of a teenager and refused to fabricate an account of rape by a political rival.
A few years ago, back when we all still had to physically be present in our office, we had a bomb scare. An alarm went off, which wasn't the usual fire alarm, and we were quickly ushered out of the (glass fronted) building, and around the corner, to the (still glass) side of the building, not via the usual fire evacuation route, but through the reception area.
It later transpired that this was a bomb "alert". Someone had walked up to the front of the building and hidden a backpack in the bushes, then wandered off again. The thing was, the evacuation route via which we had been taken, took us all right past this! Our usual fire evacuation route would have too, but still...
As it turns out, it wasn't a bomb (of course), but some scumbag secreting stolen goods or similar, thinking he wouldn't be spotted on the obvious security cameras, or by the receptionist sitting in the glass fronted reception area in front of him. If it had been a bomb, it would quite likely have made a good mess of everyone standing in a group around the corner as well.
Posted AC, because, once again, I don't wish my employer to identify me and see how much I skive, especially on a Friday...
1: Sand (Dredged up from a sandbank) was being shipped in on the back of lorries as part of building works at the Pharmaceutical plant not too far from the Dartford Tunnel & as the sand was being tipped, somebody who was actively paying attention spotted the tail fins of a UXB amongst it.
2: Travelling back home by train, a few weeks after 711 I boarded my train out of Paddington as per usual (Ahead of the crowds still on the concourse), a few seats away another early boarder was putting his bag & coat on the train, I paid him little real attention as he walked off to the lavatory as I presumed.
The train pulled out & a standing passenger asked, whose expensive coat & briefcase was taking up a empty seat & had anybody seen the owner. Having been on board the train for some 15 minutes by now, seeing no return of the owner & envisaging a major incident on the lines in\out of London.
Not surprisingly people got a little concerned at this & flagged it to the train manager, train halted at the next station & surrounded by cops, while the train manager advised passengers of the terror alert & would the owner of case & coat if he was still on the train make himself known.
Upper class person returns, "Yes its my hat & coat..... What's all the fuss about....I only left it while I joined my chums from 1st Class in the buffet.....Really what's all the bother about."
The looks he got (If he noticed them) ensured he retreated back to the buffet, which was probably his intent anyway & left his stuff behind again. As the train reached each station I half expected someone to walk off with it or throw it out the window. I know I was extremely tempted to do so as the train passed through the Somerset Levels.
My reticence to do so was out of the thought of concealed camera's for each carriage & the wider implications of the loss of the briefcase other than inconvenience to the owner.
Given my application to emigrate was in progress, I needed a clean sheet on my police records.
But I was very very tempted....even to just move it down another carriage just to induce a panic state in the individual concerned when he returned prior to exiting the train to collect his belongings.
Upper class person returns, "Yes its my hat & coat..... What's all the fuss about....I only left it while I joined my chums from 1st Class in the buffet.....Really what's all the bother about."
The briefcase probably contained a USB stick or CD with some Top Sekrit files. That's the usual way to leak data :-)
I worked in a bank during a bomb scare.
The protocol was for everyone in the branch to go downstairs to the vault as it was deemed to be protected, fair enough.
I'd popped out for a smoke 5 minutes before and was ushered away beyond the cordon.
I thought I'd inform my manager that I was taking the rest of the day off as there was no way I was gonna stand outdoors for 6 hours, my slavedriver of a manager then said "Can you skip past the cordon and back into work?"
"No I'm sorry, being an irishman i'm not about to rush the bomb squad in the middle of a scare! I'll see you tomorrow morning"
Some managers are just "like that"
Whilst on holiday in Buxton, my family and I decided to visit an exhibition called "The Micrarium" in the Crescent. I told them to wait there and said that I would just go and rob the bank, ie. draw out some cash to pay for the tickets.
I walked across to the nearest branch of Barclay's and wrote out a cheque for about ten pounds (it was a long time ago!). As I was leaving the bank, two sweaty, red faced coppers pushed past me going into the bank. I walked nonchalantly away, I surmise that someone had overheard my comment about robbing the bank and reported it to Mr. Plod.
I worked for a company that traded with South Africa when it was still very much an apatheid country. I was sitting in my office when one of the men I shared it with said "I think you should get out of the room, now, and get security, the police and the bomb squad" It seemed a strange and rather random thing to say, even for the early 80's. When I inquired as to why, he told me that he had started to open an envelope (this is pre email!) which had wires in it, and what he thought might be a battery.
So, I left, told security, who evacuated that area (note - work must go on, so not the whole building). Police came, and told him to throw it out of the window whilst diving under the desk. They then retreated to a safe distance. None of this covering up with a blast blanket, or a man in an armour suit deciding to cut the red or the yellow wire. Oh no. Just throw the package away and dive under the dek. Well, the desk was an old, heavy oak one that had definitely survived the war!
It did not go off. If it had done, several people walking along the Strand would have needed new underwear.
If a bomb is an a large envelope (say 250 grams weight) then in the real (non movie) world there is a limit to the amount of damage that amount of pure explosives could cause, and the battery and wiring for the detonator is going to reduce the amount of explosives that are possibly in it. Which is to say it could convert part of a desk to flying splinters, but it wouldn't exactly do any structural damage so people on floors above and below are quite safe. The idea with a letter bomb is that somebody is holding it in their hands when its set off, and if they aren't then it's hardly going to do much.
Now if you have a box delivered on a pallet that you think is a bomb, then that's rather more worth evacuating the building and neighbourhood over...
It would depend on the explosive. 250 grams of C4, or even just 190 grams is a LOT of explosive power: If it detonated in a room, you'd definitely lose the desk (and any windows) but anyone in the room would probably die from blast effects and unless you were in a building with concrete/rebar walls and floors, people in adjacent floors or rooms would be in great danger from flying debris.
The Mythbusters did a bit where they showed a small quantity of C4 cutting through very thick steel in different ways.
It would depend on the explosive. 250 grams of C4, or even just 190 grams is a LOT of explosive power: If it detonated in a room, you'd definitely lose the desk (and any windows) but anyone in the room would probably die from blast effects and unless you were in a building with concrete/rebar walls and floors, people in adjacent floors or rooms would be in great danger from flying debris.
Used correctly and scientifically (as a shaped charge, or to create an explosively formed projectile) then a small amount of explosives positioned correctly can do a *lot* of damage. As in, cracking steel bars and blowing holes through a steel plate etc as shown in the video. Used correctly with expert placement one could conceivably bring down a surprisingly large building with a a surprisingly small amount. If placed in precisely the right spot.
However that's used correctly and placed scientifically in precisely the right spot. As in, each of those sets of explosives in the videos are designed and shaped to produce a different effect and is placed just in the right place to produce that effect.
If it's arrived in an letter type envelope then it's going to be largely flat and so by definition *not* in a shaped charge, and so most of the effect is going to be wasted in inefficient ways and it'd suggest that it'd be likely to cause surprisingly little damage. Especially if the people putting it together didn't have access to military grade explosives.
Used correctly with expert placement one could conceivably bring down a surprisingly large building with a a surprisingly small amount [of explosives]
Me, mid-70s, drinking with a friend in a pub shortly after the Birmingham pub bombings. Friend is ex-army, specifically a sapper with considerable demolition expertise. He was saying, in a relatively loud voice, something along the lines of "Bloody IRA, absolutely useless with explosives! Use the wrong ones all the time, that's why so many people survive. With the right explosives I could kill everyone in this pub, using far less than the Irish gits do!". I looked round and everyone near us was staring, backing away slowly.
Nothing like an expert, but I would suggest that an explosives, together with a 'wrapper' including sharp metal items (tacks or nails) could be a serious threat to life, even with relatively small amounts of explosive. I doubt you would need even 250G to make an effective anti-personnel weapon.
I once had a summer casual job in the mail room of a government office. I delivered the mail to offices as you might expect but for some offices I was supposed to open letters but not look inside before delivering. I can only assume that I was the first line on bomb detection.
... but it seems to fit here, so here it is again. Feel free to skip it if you've already read it.
The story begins bright and early one fine morning many moons ago, maybe 1983. I was on the roof of the old Ford Aerospace Building One on Fabian in Palo Alto, trying to re-align a new laser network link to a building across Hwy 101. I got tackled by a couple largish MPs ... Seems that some military big-wigs were about to arrive to inspect one of our satellites (unlaunched, being built in the high-bay), and the two security guys heard someone talk about "jake's up on the roof with the laser, that should sort 'em out". Myself and the two talking about me were detained, taken to a small room & questioned. Seems the security detail wasn't all that versed in the power output of a 5mW HeNe laser; in their tiny little brains we were conspiring to roast the brass.
We had the last laugh. The laser link was part of the demo that the brass was there to observe. We were "rescued" from the grilling after about an hour, and allowed to get on with it. The security guys got a very public dressing-down from a rather technologically cluefull Colonel (in full dress) for wasting his time ... After we concluded the demo, the Colonel sent the security guys to get pizza for lunch and sat & ate with us, discussing the ins & outs of "modern" wireless (laser) networking.
Back in the 80s while working for a Large Government Department, bomb threats were taken very seriously as the IRA had demonstrated motivation and effectiveness on several occasions. One afternoon a large parcel arrived addressed to the director of data processing (as they were known in the way-back-when). It was a heavy parcel, there was no return address, no indication of the sender and it wasn't an expected delivery. The post room followed procedure and called it in. The office was evacuated and the bomb disposal squad were round in a flash - they were based a couple of miles down the road. After assorted jiggery-pokery the package was declared safe and opened. It contained a consignment of leaflets describing the current procedure for handling suspicious parcels.
There was also the central London Territorial Army (army reserves) hall that was under a 'black bikini' alert (suggested dress code = brown trousers) that received a mystery parcel
I believe they actually carried out a controlled explosion, but again it contained leaflets on how to deal with bomb threats
My Godfather (RIP) was relatively high up in the RAF during the '80s and working at Boscombe Down (possibly even as the base CO), but quartered in one of the RAF's 'country houses' nearby, very very nice Georgian pile.
One morning the house received a small package from which there appeared to be a small wire poking out......
Cue controlled military panic, etc etc...
Eventually it was gingerly carried out into the formal, laid gardens, and 'detonated'.
God know what the bill was for the garden renovations...
But - the only thing found in the debris was a small stiff-bristle (guess what was poking out of the package...) wooden handled bootbrush!
They mounted the poor thing in a glass-fronted frame and it lived proudly on his office wall for many years!
I believe a "controlled explosion" is no such thing, and is actually a rapid disassembly using compressed air or water that blows the suspected bomb apart faster than an explosive detonation can propagate. As such, it releases less energy, and stops the bomb going off; the idea is that any ignition of the explosive leads to it burning rather than exploding as it doesn't get the chance for a chain-reaction detonation, at least not a full-scale one, and (hopefully) the resulting bang is much smaller and less forceful than it otherwise would be. You still don't want to be standing anywhere near it, though.
I joined the Royal Observer Corps back in 1966. Some years later, we were all to be issued with new plastic ID cards. One day a large cardboard box was delivered to HQ at Bentley Priory, but there was no return address or any other descriptive markings, so it was placed in the middle of the (empty) car park, and the Bomb Squad called.
They decided that it would be too dangerous to attempt to open it, so a controlled detonation was performed.
Afterwards, someone had to go around the car park and collect up all of the thousand or so damaged ID cards that were scattered about, including several that had melted and welded themselves to the perimeter fence. Some scorched delivery notes and invoices were also found inside the remains of the box.
A new batch of cards had to be ordered, and it was specified on the order that identifying information had to be printed in very large letters on the outside of the box.
"A new batch of cards had to be ordered, and it was specified on the order that identifying information had to be printed in very large letters on the outside of the box."
So, when sending a letter/parcel bomb, the trick is to forge outer labels to make it look "official"?
A couple of personal tales...
I worked for a number of years in a tall building in central London that was technically classified an 'Official Secret', despite being the tallest building in London for a good few years. We once discovered that the surrounding streets had been cordoned off and offices, including parts of the hospital and university buildings opposite, had been evacuated due to a bomb threat... we had just been told to keep away from the windows! Union reps went ballistic and wanted to know why we hadn't been evacuated. The reply was logical... we don't know if it is real... you could be evacuating INTO the danger area... you are in a big strong building... it's your workplace and you are likely to spot anything out of place... just keep away from glass
The other example was that I was travelling on a bus that got diverted out of the Camden Lock area. It transpired that there had been a warning that an IRA fire bomb had been planted outside the McD in Camden Town and police had evacuated the area... unfortunate they had made a mistake in the warning and it was actually planted a couple of hundred yards away outside KFC and many of those people 'evacuating to safety' would have wandered up to Camden Lock, passing KFC on the way! Luckily it was not much more than a firework and I believe the only casualty was the litter bin it was placed in
(I've given both examples to 'safety reps' who insist we should evacuate to a 'place of safety' for a bomb threat)
My daughter saved us from the bomb outside Boots by shitting herself. It was a day o tow before her first birthday and we were heading to Boots to buy her a new outfit. As we were walking from the car park in the Golden Square shopping centre sh started to grizzle and smeeled very ripe! We took her into BHS to change and feed her, and to get some lunch in the cafe. As we were sitting there we heard the bang and were evacuated back towards the car park.
I can only be relieved that directions for building-evacuation were not given by one of our supervisors. Responsible for directing our site service staff he once sent an engineer to a factory in Manchester Road, Bradford. Eventually, the engineer phoned in for further details of the location only to be told he should have gone to Bradford Road, Manchester.
To be clear, this was in the days of public telephones and when you needed to buy a street map of the locale.... I can also confirm that it is a very easy mistake to make....
My near miss was an IRA bomb in the early 1990s. It was planted on the route I took to college at Senate House, University of London, and went off minutes after I passed by. I heard a dull "wallop" and assumed it was a traffic accident, like a car broadsiding a bus. It was only on my way home when I had to bypass the police cordon that I realised something much more serious had happened. Thankfully no one was hurt.
Many years ago I heard a loud "WHOOF!" and felt the back of the car move strangely. Looked in the mirror and there was a load of debris still settling in the road behind me. Gas explosion in a residential property though, not terrorism. I was quite literally a second or two from being in the direct line of the blast. Luckily, no one died.
My wife remembers being a small child in a car stopped at a stoplight. The family happened to look at the gas station on the corner, where a car was pulling away from the pump - with the nozzle still in their tank. Which wouldn't have been too bad, except the driver chose that moment to flick their cigarette out the window...
My father-in-law promptly ran the red light.
(Many years later, Mythbusters convincingly demonstrated that a cigarette won't light gasoline. I think I still would have run the light myself!)
Current advice for at least some Govt buildings is evacuate and disperse.
There is no fixed assembly area, therefore no ability for someone to target people at that assembly area.
(Did a quick check and found a Gov UK page that refers to dispersal as a valid option, so I suspect its not just govt buildings that do this)
A friend of mine grew up in Abingdon UK and went to school by bus. One day, on arriving at school he found that he no longer had his school bag with him. Meanwhile, the RAF had spotted a suspicious item next to a bus stop on the edge of RAF Abingdon, sent in a robot and given the bag a couple of blasts with the shotgun....
It happened to a friend of my daughter, who dropped his backpack by the school's entrance while he played nearby with his mates - this being the day after the shooting at the Bataclan, terrorist alert was at a maximum, but sending the bomb squad for a backpack left at a school door? Seems a bit over the top....
Story I read ages ago somewhere...
In among all the university buildings on Oxford Road in Manchester is (or was) the National Computing Centre. It was a fairly high profile building and an occasional target during the Troubles in the 70s and 80s. One day someone went past, dropped a bag full of batteries and wires, and ran off. They called the police and got the bomb squad out. After a brief investigation they were allowed back in. It wasn't someone trying to blow the place up, but a shoplifter who had nicked a load of stuff from Maplin just up the road.
I was doing some work at a secure government sites when the troubles were at their height I was in my early 20's and just married with small children. The threat level was raised to the highest possible alert, basically an attack was expected and imminent.
Attending a British Army base my car was searched and inspected inside and out. I got an absolute bollocking from the NCO in charge of the gate as it was full of kids stuff, work documentation, tools etc. I was basically told that if I turned up and the car wasn't cleared out next time I would not be allowed on site. They inspected the car again on exit checking for anything attached underneath.
Attending an RAF Base I was not allowed on site, arriving at 7 am and working till late in the dark in the winter I was sent down the external boundary road to park on some wasteland. When I questioned this with my on site sponsor I was informed that I had been parked in the 'blast area' there was nothing important inside 'the wire' there that could be affected by anything less than a huge device. Leaving site at 10PM in pitch darkness a smirking 'Rock Ape' asked me if I had a mirror and torch to inspect the underside of my car, needless to say I hadn't thought about that at 6am when I left home. Getting into the car and starting the ignition was a bit of a buttock tightening moment. I went through another 2 weeks of this as I was leaving home so early in the morning and getting home so late there was no time to go and buy an inspection mirror and torch and I had no idea where to buy them from anyway. It truly is amazing what you can get used to.
During this time I did actually see a device being remotely detonated close to my office which was itself blown up a couple of years later but by then I was working elsewhere.
Living in Aldershot during the Troubles, it was always risky to drive on any of the roads that appeared to be normal public ones but actually belonged to the military. You'd occasionally turn a corner and find yourself in a queue for a random check. If you had no ID on you, or they simply disliked your appearance, then your car would be torn apart by a bunch of trainee paratroopers. They would then leave you to reassemble it by yourself.
Not Troubles related, just an ordinary visit to a RAF base to sort out a database. The Unix guy was there already and had asked me to bring along some server hardware bits and bobs - a large box containing stuff I had no idea about. The car in front of me at the gate stopped, a rather well built military type got out and stood tight-lipped while a couple of guards proceeded to empty his car and question him about the contents. I particularly remember a full set of golf clubs being tipped out onto the floor.
My turn came, thinking to myself "I may be in a spot of bother here...". I start to get out, guard waves me back in the car, examines my pass through the open window and checks I know where I'm going. "Is that it?" asks I. "Oh sure, that chap in front gave our mate a hard time on the parade ground last week. He's a stickler for doing things by the book".
You reap what you sow.
"My turn came, thinking to myself 'I may be in a spot of bother here...'."
I have a similar story. No bombs, or threats thereof, but just run-of-the-mill officialdom -- or so I thought.
I was driving into the U.S. from Canada, via the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls. It being a gorgeous late-summer Saturday morning at, like, Niagara Falls, the tourist situation was predictably crazy; the lineup for Customs inspection extended half-way across the gorge.
I had finally, finally made it to be next in line for one particular booth. There was a car in the booth, but the Customs agent kept looking hard at me, some distance away.
"Crap," I'm thinking, "he hates me already! This is not going go well."
I finally get up to the booth, and his first question is, "You're not pregnant, are you?"
Now, I'm a guy, and I look unmistakably like a guy, and I'm alone in the car, so WTF?
He explained. It seems that in the car ahead of me was a woman whose water had broken while they were waiting in line on the bridge. He'd directed them over to a secondary-inspection bay to have her kid (one of the very few circumstances, I imagine, when someone might be grateful to be so directed :-/ ).
What's more, the Customs guy had some paramedic training. He hadn't been looking at me; he'd been judging the lineup, to see whether he could get away with closing his booth to go and assist with the delivery. He must have decided he couldn't, but I have a vague half-memory of another agent coming to relieve him, or perhaps of him saying he was waiting for that to happen.
At any rate, my Customs inspection was painless, and I was quickly on my way.
I love the all-too-rare occasions like that -- and yours at the RAF base -- when the facade cracks and you get to see the person behind the official.
Like the time a Toronto city cop pulled me over for speeding. It went just as you'd expect -- him being all official and stern, and me being all "yes sir, I'm sorry sir". He ran my driver's license, then came back with the formal "letting you off with a warning" form. He handed it to me (I might have had to sign it) -- and then, business done, he broke into a huge smile and had to say hello to my dog, and we interacted simply as people for a few moments.
A couple of decades back, visiting my sister & family in the US & knowing the US Customs strict interpratation of rules etc, I was bringing NOTHING through for the folks ( a bag of baby clothes I was ferrying from one sister to another a decade before got thoroughly 'inspected').
The customs guy ran through the list, all 'No', and looked like he couldn't believe I was visiting family with NO gifts & said
"You the youngest?"
Him: "Go to the shops there before you meet your sister and buy her some flowers, chocolates - ANYthing' and passed me through - all with the same serious expression....
Many years ago I and my colleagues were evacuated from a building as the post room had received a suspicious package. We were waiting outside (at a safe distance) for a number of hours before being let back in as the suspicious package turned out to be a new franking machine for the post room that they'd forgotten they'd ordered.
After a few bomb scares, someone decided that the security guards at a major telephone exchange should be issued with metal detectors to scan all bags and parcels...
They got dumped in the back of a cupboard almost immediately when they figured that 99% of all bags and parcels contained metal!
I worked in a Marine lab for 20 years, although the lab only looked at nematode worms, plankton and other small stuff etc it did have a vivisection license, which can be looked up as they are in the public domain. So we did get a couple of warning by animals right loony's. My boss also got sent something suspicious one day which turned out to be a marketing mailing and the strange small metal object that could be felt in the packaging was a padlock the marketing tag line was something like "locking in potential" or some other old sh1te! ;o)
To add to the anecdotes, many years ago I was transiting Charles de Gaulle airport when a number of gendarmes appeared and efficiently and swiftly cleared an area around a suspicious bag. When a radius of about 20 or 30 yards had been cleared, the bag in question was destroyed by a small explosion. I was surprised at how small an area had been cleared - no messages were given over the public address system, so the terminal was still full of people, most of whom were completely unaware of what was going on. Everything was back to normal for CDG soon afterwards.
It contrasted greatly with the procedures I had experienced in the UK.
UK - suspicious parcel delivered to university. Building locked down. Parcel taken out of office by remote-control 'robot' and placed on lawn. Parcel blown up to reveal some unfortunate graduate's doctoral thesis, which was now confetti. Police tour locked down building and require everyone to destroy any pictures they might have taken of the operation (this was before the days of digital cameras, so a long, long time ago - a time of troubles).
Similar story at Gare du Nord about 12 years ago - good size backpack had been abandoned, so they pushed everyone back about 10m and then proceeded to stand about within the blast radius, chat and shake hands with new policemen who kept turning up. The UK cop I was with at the time was aghast. Eventually some bloke wandered over to collect his bag - words were exchanged and everyone dispersed.
I was in Rennes station last year (sorting out Brexit induced nonsense) when a strange repetitive message started playing over the PA. Nobody else seemed to care, so I didn't either, but I wonder if that was some sort of coded message for "check the bins" or whatever?
"a strange repetitive message started playing over the PA. Nobody else seemed to care, so I didn't either"
While at university, I spent a summer as an operator for their Honeywell mainframe. (I can't remember its precise designation at the time: Series 60 Level 66, or 66/60 -- something like that. It was the product line that a few years later would get rebranded "DPS 8".) Now, this machine had a console command, tcall, which would disconnect all the users in such a way that later, once allowed to sign on again, they could recover their work in progress.
Official procedure during fire alarms (which occurred a couple of times a term -- always false alarms in my four years there) was for the operator on duty to tcall the system before leaving -- because that was the best way to keep people from ignoring the fire alarm and continuing to work.
Not a bomb threat - just normal procedures. It was at the end of the 1990's and I was returning from supplier visits in Belgium and NE France. My route had been a flight to Amsterdam Schiphol, and a hire car to drive (starting from Aberdeen, it was by far the easiest route back then). On the return leg, I dropped a couple of colleagues off at Brussels airport and arrived at Schiphol a too early to check-in for my own flight. I got a book and wandered to a quiet spot to wait. Not long after setting on a seat (I realised that I was no longer the only person around, as armed police had moved into various spots (including an overlooking balcony) and settled behind portable steel shields. Their focus was the previously deserted check-in desk. On of these police had his shield right next to me and, realising that my seat was possibly not the best choice, I asked him what was happening. "An El Al flight is about to check-in" was his reply; "You might feel more comfortable waiting elsewhere." An understatement as I wheeled my luggage back to the main check-in area.
My eventual flight home was quite uneventful.
Yeah, they take things seriously there.
In 1996 I visited Jordan and Syria on vacation. The flight from Toronto to Schiphol was straightforward. There was a security check, of course, but I don't recall it being particularly onerous.
The second hop, from Schiphol to Amman, was another story. That segment's security check was brutal -- I don't recall the details, only that it took what seemed like forever, and for a much, much smaller number of passengers, too. (I don't suppose it was any worse than we've all become accustomed to post-9/11, but it was pretty extreme by the standards of those somewhat more innocent days.)
I wouldn't dare go to Syria now, so I'm glad I did then -- especially seeing as Da'esh has since largely destroyed the high point of our trip, Palmyra.
I recall my boss (when I worked for an oil service company back in the 1980's) being deported from Saudi Arabia. He was on a business trip to the service base there and had been asked to take a service part with him (with all necessary customs paperwork). It was a single piece that is dropped down a well and sized so that it lands and makes a seal on a tool installed in the well string - apply pressure at the wellhead and the tool moves to open (or close) an associated valve. The item is made from a single piece of metal, is pointed at one end and has fins at the other - and, because of its shape, was nicknamed "a bomb". My boss was asked, at customs, if he had anything to declare in his luggage - yes, a bomb!
Until then, I'd had to work hard to convince him to let me get all the necessary paperwork, permits, visas in place before my own trips, as his approach was along the lines of it being easier to apologise after than getting permission before. After that episode, I got his full cooperation...
Maybe a couple of decades ago there had been some scares involving packages containing something dangerous (Anthrax ?).
Early one morning a colleague who mostly worked on site arrived at his desk to find an envelope addressed to him but no other markings.
As he started to open it some white powder fell out.
He quickly dropped the package back onto his desk and walked away a bit, then explained to those around him what he had seen.
Someone called HR who instructed us to clear the area, which didn't take long as most people had not yet arrived. Some of us, including me, were tasked with standing outside the entrance doors to stop anyone else entering until officialdom came to analyse the situation.
Eventually the contents were checked and found to be a collection of Love Hearts, some of which had been crushed in transit. They were a gift from the girlfriend of the recipient. Much relief and amusement all round; well nearly all round. The recipient was so embarrassed by the event and the following comments that he left the company within the month.
Not a security scare, but related to messages being sent to the wrong phone numbers - whilst debugging the SMS handling functions in an embedded GSM module firmware some moons ago, inamongst the usual robodialler spams and messages from the mobile network, there were a few more interesting messages to be found in the system logs from people texting our SIM number instead of the one they really ought to have been...
I was at University in the early 1970s, at the height of IRA bomb campaigns. Bomb scares were something that happened fairly frequently at just about any public event. My favourite was when a University Music Society concert had to be abandoned halfway through because of a bomb scare. No bomb; it was a false alarm (that particular campaign involved lots of false alarms with just enough real ones to make people take them seriously). But one of the pieces on the program was Divertissement by Jacques Ibert (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npZc5B3IPQ8&ab_channel=WDRKlassik). The concert was rescheduled for a week later - and during the finale of the rather chaotic piece (14:36 in the video), the concert hall was blacked out, a strobe light operated and a guy with a black hat and a stripy shirt ran across the stage carrying a large round object labelled "BOMB"!
A few years later my sister-in-law had a narrow escape when a real bomb went off at one of the London stations; I forget which one.
carrying a large round object labelled "BOMB"!
An obscure cultural reference that only remains current because of its use in cartoons and satirical art.
'Bombs' were, amongst other things, early (spherical) artillery shells. AKA 'cannon balls'. With a fused bursting charge, so that, like 'shrapnel', they would burst just before impact. Hence, the American national anthem: "Bombs bursting in air, gave proof, through the night, that our flag was still there". It was, right up through WWI, difficult to get the fusing right (by then they weren't using cannon 'balls'), and a 'bomb' might explode early, or might land, like the iconic cartoon bomb, with the fuse still burning. One of the ways of fusing was to have something that was lit by the firing charge. Or it might be lit by your iconic anarchist.
Haven't heard much mention of the Darwin Awards lately. This may qualify:-
Imagine a setup where the call centre you run is connected to an Ericsson AXE10 exchange you also own. So callers into the call centre route over lines you manage. Not only manage but have full engineering access to including call tracing - at a level that gives full call details. Then mix in a disgruntled customer who decides to call into their own service provider and issue a bomb threat. But they think they're clever as they withhold their number. The call centre agent presses their malicious call trace key flagging the call. This provides us with the agents extension number and we duly trace the call 'live'. This provides the originating CLI as whilst the caller masks it we can still see it; then we run the number for a laugh into our customer database only to find a match.
So when calling 999 we provide their name and address and the fact they're still Iive on the call.
I worked for a UK defence contractor up in outer London, where we had to evacuate the buildings because a unidentified car had been parked in front of the building and it was considered suspicious
It later turned out to be a hire car that had been returned, but the hire company had forgotten to pick it up. Problem is that had been sitting there for 4 weeks before anyone noticed
The suspected leak was in a large Victorian primary school. With a relatively small play area. The kids ( and staff of course) were evacuated into the play area. And that was it. Had something actually gone bang! we were all within a few metres of the building. ( I was on a visit to the school at the time and stayed to help with the kids). It became clear during the rest of the day that the local authority had no contingency planning for such events -and there was a total lack of visit or help from any of the higher ups, of course.. We eventually were able to take the kids to a (recently built) sports hall nearby and kept them entertained.
Boarding school, circa 1986, late autumn, about three in the morning, pissing down rain.
Fire alarm goes off. We get up and trudge outside to the volleyball court (it was away from everything of importance), and stand there getting rained on for ages as teachers count and recount to ensure we're all present.
Eventually the rozzers arrive. Rather a lot of them.
By the time we're drenched, we're told we could go back in. I pass the headmaster's office and notice the door was broken down. It wasn't like that on the way out.
Turns out that the night teacher, before turning in, did a final check that all the doors were closed and became concerned by a ticking noise from the office. Being perhaps a little prone to hysterical reactions, she went straight to the "argh! bomb!" option. Yes, this was the time of The Troubles, but it was an unimportant school in the middle of nowhere. Any would-be terrorist would be more likely to get lost on the never ending forested back roads.
We were evacuated, and the entire junior end of the school got marched right past that office (instead of, well I can think of several options but I don't remember the exact layout so much as it's been MANY years).
The fuzz turn up, listen, then kick in the door as only the head had the key, and discover.......
.......a new grandfather clock.
Bastards didn't even let us sleep in a bit the following morning.
Turned up to my own birth four minutes late (technically my mother was a month and a half early) and looking like a smurf. Leading to what would be described as "educational difficulties", namely an awkward blend of reading adult books (like H G Wells, J G Ballard) as a young child but not getting my head around numbers. Like, at all. Oh, throw in serious attention defic...ooh shiny, plus a dose of hyperactivity, plus communicating using rudimentary sign language (pre-Makaton?) as a very young child because I didn't like talking, and I'm pretty sure I'm lurking in the spectrum (but undiagnosed because the late 70s answer to that was being labelled retarded or something equally pleasant) and that's why I ended up in that school.
These days? Heh, I'm too fat'n'crusty to be hyperactive, my attention span is better, I can manage whole minutes of things that I find boring. I still don't like talking (but can) and I read a lot...when I'm not being lazy and watching Netflix. But movies of books are annoying, always a disappointment compared to how it appeared in my mind.
Daydreaming is a favourite pastime too, because there's an entire world inside my head. It's a lot better than the one I see when I open my eyes...
It's quarter past eleven at night, so as good a time as any to close my eyes and retreat to that world full of colours and textures. And loads of people going about their lives. And birds, cats, bees, neon lights and reflections in puddles... :)
There's a school of thought that the characteristics that make up the stereotypical engineer are very mild Asperger's symptoms. I remember reading a study showing that people with Asperger's are more than twice as likely as the general population to have a parent or grandparent who is an engineer. Being "on the spectrum" can, in some occupations, even be an advantage.
A colleague who had considerable experience working with kids who were on the ASD spectrum had in a previous life worked for a large public transport organisation. She swore that all the route planning/advice staff were on the spectrum And they were very good at their job too.
Apparently, I was born too early to be diagnosed with such problems.
I have terrible handwriting with poor spelling. I have always read a lot - everything from Arthur C Clarke to Solzhenitsyn and, being Scottish learned my tables up to at least 16.
The assumption was that I was lazy with anything I didn't like. It wasn't until a couple of years after I left, I was picking my brother up at the end of term and I talked to my housemaster. Apparently, they were now doing training about dyslexia, autism and other things. Anonymised records were used and he recognised mine when it showed positive!
If I was perhaps 3 years younger, I would be able to use some big words about myself instead of "lazy", "inattentive", "untidy" and "strange behaviour"!
After decades of working in IT, it doesn't show up. That is how so many of us are...
Somewhere back in the original Punk song that had the line,
"They got a bomb", me and my late teenage mates always used to ad "tiddly on pom pom" after it when listening.
Can't remember the name of the song or the artist. Maybe someone else in their late 50s can remind me!
In the early days of POTS modem banks, there was often a standard analog telephone available to plug into the back of whichever modem was suspected of having line problems. Some modem banks had a forward facing plug panel that could be used instead of reaching behind the rack. That phone was often left plugged into the last line it was used on.
When I worked in sales I used to have to speak to many people on the phone before meeting them in person.
I don’t think I ever got a mental picture of a single person right although there was a mantra a colleague used that rang true a lot of the time - fit on the phone? Add 2 stone.
Anonymous, for very obvious reasons
At one point, the place where I worked regularly had people leaving work just go out the alarmed fire exit door, which was very near the CAD department full of people concentrating on board designs. Every few days, someone went out that door, the alarm went off, and good luck continuing to concentrate on whatever you were doing before that.
Eventual solution, because apparently "being told off by management" wasn't enough for some people, was to put a large sign saying "NOT AN EXIT" on the fire door.