Friday, October 19, 2007

Inside stories

I was sitting at my computer yesterday afternoon around 2:30 and our regular cleaning crew came in for the afternoon empty-the-trashcans sweep. He was all wet, and laughing about a sprinkler pipe break out in the far end of G hall; this is our big downstairs exhibit hall. The rest of the housekeeping crew were over there trying to mop it all up, he had been there but then sent off to do the regular office work.

This is a big convention center, but there are only about 120 regular full time employees here. When there is no show there are probably only four or five on the housekeeping staff, to keep the bathrooms clean and come around to the offices twice a day. When there is a big show this swells to several hundred on call workers, as it is not unusual to have forty or fifty thousand people out in the convention space.

At about 3:20 I was walking back through G hall – about every hour I get up from my desk and take a short walk around the building just to get some circulation in my legs – and wasn’t even thinking about the water break. After all, it was at the far end of the hall and I couldn’t see anything, there being all the support columns and blockhouses in the way. The hall is almost a kilometer across, so it’s not as if I was right there. As I approached the door to our hallway the fire alarm system went off. This is a series of bright strobe lights and lout klaxon horns scattered not very far apart. In between the loud beeps was a recorded voice saying something that I could not understand, due to the echoes coming around the big concrete hall. It was much louder in the corridor, as well as back in our office. But back here I could better hear the voice saying that the cause of the problem was under investigation. Out in the hall I heard someone telling security (their office is near ours) that the alarm was caused by the sprinkler system being turned off to drain, so that the leak could be fixed. I normally leave around 3:30 (well, I come in before 7) and the noise was so loud I just left a few minutes early. The alarm continued to sound as I walked down the hall to the employee exit. It’s about a 2km (half mile or more) walk down the hall to the stairs out. Somebody walked by joking about the strobe lights being camera flashes.

Today I was talking about it with one of the help desk guys in the office. He was over at the big hotel next door upstairs food court (yes, about a mile and a half walk away) and the alarm was going off over there as well, and down on the casino floor too. I am sure that if an alarm like that went off on the casino floor that someone pretty high up in corporate heard it, or heard about it. The original problem was probably caused by a truck hitting one of the sprinkler heads. The ceiling is high, and trucks are told to stay in certain areas, but some of those semis are pretty tall and to clip the sprinkler heads and light fixtures if they drive down the wrong path. There is no show on now, nobody moving in or out, so I don’t know what might have been going on. I was surprised to hear that the alarms were sounding over there. We are two separate properties, joined several places, but there are big fire doors that would come across to seal off the hotel and casino from the meeting rooms and from the convention area. I didn’t know the alarms were cross connected like that.

One of the maintenance guys just walked in with a computer problem. He’s describing what happened; it was a fork lift that clipped a sprinkler head. Guess that guy gets to attend another forklift safety class, if he’s still working here. Further stories of trying to find the valve to turn off that sprinkler, not part of the regular system, further adventures of the on/off valve breaking when turning it back on, flooding of the warehouse, people going home at 5 when their shift was over with a foot of water back there; it all sounds amusing when I’m not in the middle of it.

Thinking about it, I imagine that if the alarm was going off on the casino floor then it probably was also going off at a fire station someplace. We probably had a couple dozen fire engines and rescue trucks out front within minutes. City safety offices do not take an alarm in one of the big Strip casino/hotels lightly. I didn’t see them when I was driving home, but I drive around the back of the building.

Adventures in the big city.

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