Earthquake

My assistant came into my office breathless.

“Crisis in Venezuela, chief technology officer is on the phone!”

I didn’t worry, after all Venezuela was always in crisis, besides I knew that she was talking about our company in Venezuela and not the country, which by the way had recently elected Hugo Chavez and he had not up to that point shown his real intentions.

“Luiz, qué pasa?” I asked using the Venezuelan language, but going forward I’ll tell the story English.

“Our building is collapsing”

“What do you mean?”

“There was a small earthquake, the fault that passes through the property has opened and the building where the offices and computing room are located is about to collapse, what should I do?”

“Please transfer the call to the president of the company. I want to talk to him.”

I had become aware of the company’s unusual situation in Venezuela not long ago. Apparently when headquarters acquired and took over the company and the factory, quite a long time ago, did not realize or took the risk for the fact that the factory building, office building and other buildings that formed the complex, were in a seismic area, subject to earthquakes.

I couldn’t believe it when they said the president wasn’t there. They transferred the call to the Human Resources Director.

“The situation is not as serious as it seems and is under control” Explained the Director of Human Resources

“Under control how?”

“We built in the factory building which is not under the fault and it is a reinforced building, divisions for offices and we moved all the office staff there”

“All right, but what about the systems people?”

“We’re going to move all systems personnel there too”

“Yes, but we’re going to have to move the computer and equipment also”

The computer and peripheral equipment, occupied at that time an entire room.

“The computer, we will not be able to move”

“Why not?”

“It will be very expensive. In addition, all telephone equipment, communication lines are also based in that room. The cost is prohibitive and the interruption of services will be long” and continued “We hired a specialized company to analyze the physical situation of the building. We are waiting for the final report, but in the meeting we just had with them, they said that the part of the building where the computer room is located, is reinforced and will not collapse” Before I could contest, he continued “The company suggested cutting the building in half, so the part of the office that is under stress can be demolished without compromising the computer room, so everything is fine”

“Cut the building in half, how?”

“With water”

“Water?”

“Yes, water jets”

I didn’t believe it, cutting a concrete building in half with water jets, it seemed absurd to me.

“I don’t agree” I said and continued “How about the people that work in the computer room, the operators. They have to stay in the room practically all the time. What if there’s another seismic movement and the building collapses with them inside?”

“Well, we looked at this situation and the decision not to move the computer was made by the president of the company.”

“Well, then there’s no point in talking to you, please ask the president to call me urgently.”

The president called me the next day and before I could say a thing, he without explaining, simply said:

“I need your help.”

And then explained that the company was not doing well economically even before the earthquake, that he understood my position, that he was worried about the operators and asked what I could do to help him.

He dismantled me, I couldn’t say no, so I committed to help after he took responsibility for the people who needed to work in the computer room.

I met with the systems director and although at the time, before the internet revolution, it was not possible to operate the computer remotely, we created a plan to minimize the need for operators in the computer room. We started operating services in another company nearby leaving to run in the company computer only services for which there was no other alternative. This greatly decreased the time the operators needed to be in the computer room.

Fortunately, there was no other earthquake and to my joy and surprise, the cut of the building was a total success. I went to Venezuela to see the result.

The offices’ part of the building was down, demolished. It was possible to see next to the rubble a bright, perfect cut, made with jet water on the reinforced concrete wall. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I’d never believe it.

The computer building is there to this day, but now at much greater risk. It’s in the hands of the Venezuelan government.

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