My boss, the IT manager, saw it coming a long way off, so he started working on modifying the mainframe computer programs years before the crunch was going to hit in 2000. Suddenly, though, our corporate folks started running around with their hair on fire hiring consultants and making us fill out reams and reams of meaningless CYA forms. At one point, I can remember saying, “We have a choice: we can either be prepared for Y2K or we can fill out the forms.”
By the time 2008 came around, the stickers on the window looking into my office had faded, but they still proclaimed I was Year 2000 Compliant. Above it was a sticker with the word “SWEAT” that once had a circle around it with the international slash symbolizing NO, as in NO SWEAT. Telecom was ready.
New Year’s Eve 1999
All of the IT staffers, including my telecom techs, had their days off cancelled as 1999 ticked down. Mike Turpie, my #2 Guy and I were going to be at the office. Telecom Tech Terry Williams was on standby with orders to have a sober New Year’s Eve in case we needed him. I thought at least ONE of us should get a good night’s sleep in case Mike and I were swatting flies through the wee hours of the morning.
We were confident: most of our equipment had been replaced in 1998-99 with new gear that was certified to work in 2000 and beyond. People with Nortel phone switches like ours were members of a big international users group and had been comparing notes for months. The canaries in the coal mine would be the people on the other side of the globe who would see the New Year hours before we would in Florida. As the day went on, they kept checking in with AOK messages.
An hour before midnight, we dropped off the commercial power grid and switched to generator power “just in case.” I photographed Mike sitting under the clock as we got closer and closer to what I said was going to be either the most boring or the most “interesting” night of our lives.
Seconds before midnight, Mike placed a call – probably to his wife – and waited to see what happened.
Nothing unusual happened.
We turned to a carefully prepared checklist: dialed into all our remote switches; placed local and long distance calls; looked for alarms, made sure voice mail was up, confirmed that the call centers would open in the morning, and waited about half an hour to see if anything started smoking. Life was so good.
Then we looked outside
When I designed the switchroom, I made sure it didn’t have any windows so it would be pelican-proof in hurricanes. To see what was going on, we had to go down the hallway to the fourth-floor lobby where we could look out west over the city. When Mike and I got to the end of the hallway, the city was dark. I mean like, REALLY dark. No lights as far as we could see.
This was Not Good in capital letters. Here we were in a four-story lighted tower of light surrounded by primeval darkness. I expected angry and panicked West Palm Beacheans to charge us with torches and pitchforks at any moment.
With a bit of trepidation, I picked up my two-way radio, switched over to the newsroom channel and said, “545 to Base 30, Uhhhh, any idea what’s going on? It’s realllllly dark out there….”
“Base 30 to 545. A drunk took out a utility pole.”
And that’s the way of the world ends. Not with a bang; not with a whimper, with a drunk hitting a power pole.