back to article Police block roads to stop tech support chap 'robbing a bank'

Welcome again to On-Call, The Register's Friday reader-contributed tales of tech support jobs gone wrong. We're mining a bit of a vein of emergency-services-related stories of late, so let's keep that going by meeting "James", who sent us a story from "way back in the 1990s when I was sent to a small branch of a foreign bank …

  1. Mycho Silver badge

    I got confused in a hospital once and pressed the medical emergency button by mistake, but I cancelled it before anything happenned because it didn't do what I expected. All I got was a 'what happenned?' and I lied about knocking something against it.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Must have been a quite impressive experience

    Personally I thought it was always a button under the desk or on the side. I would have been very careful about not brushing against that. But a bar on the floor ? I'm not sure I would have made the relationship with the alarm.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

      If the bar were on the path to the vault (or in the path to the back) then anybody who is being forced along at gunpoint can just stand on it to trigger the alarm. Very clever idea now that I think about it.

      Whoever came up with it deserves a pint -->

      1. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

        I worked somewhere temporarily that had just installed a VOIP system and people were very impressed and excited with the new handsets. It was about a day after the system had been fully working that happened to be a Saturday. I was working in the head office on something urgent but feeling peckish decided to go out and get a bite to eat. As I was walking to the lift I heard a few police sirens quite close by. When I made it to reception there were four burly coppers standing there talking to the security guards. They were responding to a panic button activation that they had received. I was one of three people working in the building and none of us had pressed anything apparently. I wasn't even aware there were panic buttons.

        The Old Bill weren't having this because they could identify the panic button call as having come from this address. I thought for a second and said that we'd just had a new phone system installed. I wasn't involved in that but it was possible that the offices around the country were having their calls routed through the head office. The caller ID would still give the local number but the they'd join the PSTN in that building, hence why they were directed to that address. I suggested calling the regional offices to check if any of them had had an activation. After finishing my lunch I got back to find out that a builder in a regional office had accidentally triggered it whilst working. I never found out why they had panic alarms linked to the police but someone said that the firm occasionally did work for the Government which might have explained it.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

      "Put your hands up" is usually the first demand, is it not?

      Thus button-under-counter is probably a really bad idea.

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

        Great so not only do I have to worry about buttons under desks but now I have to worry about metal bars on floors. What am I supposed to say now? Put your hands up, jump away from that metal bar and dont touch anything? Sounds bloody ridiculous. And how are they supposed to hand me the loot then? Lousy security people, making us honest bank robbers lives harder. It's just not on....

        --- Robber McGee

        1. Olivier2553 Silver badge

          Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

          What about "hands up and start floating one foot above the floor"?

          1. NBCanuck

            Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

            "What about "hands up and start floating one foot above the floor"?"

            Like the stance in Karate Kid? All tellers are now in full attack position!

            Oh.....hovering a foot above the floor, not just with one leg raised. Not as much fun reading it that way. :-(

        2. Nick Kew Silver badge

          @Robber McGee

          Since you don't know what emergency devices they might have to hand (or foot, knee, elbow, paunch, or whatever), best just to shoot them immediately and eliminate all such mechanisms.

          Dear bank, let me sell you the latest alarm. It's triggered by a member of your staff shedding blood, or being tasered so they're unable to set off the normal alarms. Oh, right, you already have it?

          1. Jonathon Green

            Re: @Robber McGee

            “...best just to shoot them immediately and eliminate all such mechanisms.”

            And then get caught out by a “dead man” function which triggers the alarm if at least one of a number of other hidden trigger devices isn’t activated at least every minute or so. :-)

            1. Jim Mitchell

              Re: @Robber McGee

              Give the staff heart rate tracking Fitbit type devices. If the rate goes to 0 or increases dramatically, either there is a medical emergency or a robbery.

        3. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

          and don't forget to add "And dont say anything starting with "Hey Google" or "Alexa..."

          1. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

            Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

            Alexa? Or "Axhole, open the door yourself." I'd be moving towards the exit now, in my frock coat, but I'm mortally wounded. An immersive experience, in my own sanguinous fluid.

      2. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

        @Lee D

        Not if it's of a suitable design (like a mushroom EMO one) that could be triggered using your leg (knee or thigh bash for examples)...

      3. rg287 Bronze badge

        Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

        "Put your hands up" is usually the first demand, is it not?

        Thus button-under-counter is probably a really bad idea.

        Works fine. Have you not seen Kevin and Perry Go Large?

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

          my wife worked in a building society that didnt have a panic alarm, they didnt have shutters either and had a standing order to just empty the lot for criminals. I thought it would be mandatory for silent alarms but apparently not. Times gone by eh.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

            > and had a standing order to just empty the lot for criminals.

            It is a useful delay tactic. You first have to commit an outrage, get caught, processed, judged and convicted, and only then can show up at the bank and get the contents of the safe; whereas I or any other non-convicted citizen¹ would just be denied it no matter how forcefully we insist upon it.

            ¹ Or if you are a bona fide criminal but forgot to bring along your proof of criminal records.

      4. Valerion

        Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

        "Put your hands up" is usually the first demand, is it not?

        Thus button-under-counter is probably a really bad idea.

        Don't most people have knees?

        1. lglethal Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

          "Don't most people have knees?"

          Would that make it a knee jerk reaction?

          I'm sorry I'll get my coat...

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Must have been a quite impressive experience

        > "Put your hands up" is usually the first demand, is it not?

        > Thus button-under-counter is probably a really bad idea.

        Ceiling-mounted toilet flush chain?

  3. derfer

    Also watch out for hidden alarms

    I was working earlier this year inspecting behind wall panelling in a government building. The panels lift up and out to give access to the void behind that had various services running through it.

    We got to one section of the building where all the panels had been screwed into place with a specialist security screws (all the previous panels had been unfixed and just lifted off). I spotted one panel in the middle of the area that had ordinary screws instead of security screws so undid these and lifted the panel off to look behind. There was an alarm sensor fitted to the back of the panel (apparently to all the panels in this area) and all I could see was a metal sheet with lots of warnings on it. An alarm went off and shortly after there was an armed response.

    I can speculate what was behind that metal panel but I'm not going to write it down in case big brother is watching.

    Needless to say I didn't remove any more panels that day.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Also watch out for hidden alarms

      Was it a sign that said "Beware of the leopard"?

      1. DailyLlama

        Re: Also watch out for hidden alarms

        Happy towel day!

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Also watch out for hidden alarms

      When I was a college student, and thus cheap labor for the computer science department, I was part of a group laying CAT-5 and fiber optics across ceilings.

      One day, we're cabling up the robotics lab when a squad of campus police come in, followed by the local county sheriff, all with guns drawn.

      Turns out we'd triggered a LOT of the sensors designed to protect the extremely expensive robots. Sensors that of course no one warned us about.

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Also watch out for hidden alarms

        @Gene Cash

        "campus police" "guns drawn"

        so, you weren't at Oxford then?

    3. defiler Silver badge

      Re: Also watch out for hidden alarms

      @derfer

      I saw your name there and thought "I don't remember writing / doing that"... I'm glad it's the end of the week today. I think I need a break.

  4. silks

    ATM Fraud

    Worked a colleague from the company that runs the UK's ATM network. We'd invoked DR and close to the DR data centre was an ATM we could use for live testing. Police turned up due to the suspicious activity of my colleague repeatedly inserting bank cards in the early hours of the morning which took some explaining. No dramatic road blocks though :(

    1. Olivier2553 Silver badge

      Re: ATM Fraud

      Speaking about ATM, I once did a withdrawal at the ATM in front of a bank and noticed the computer part of the machine was not properly closed, it was unlocked and I could open it. There was a police boot about 50m away, but I doubt any one was watching.

      My guess is that some staff forgot to lock the machine after some work on it. I informed the central phone number of the bank and let it be.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: ATM Fraud

        Upgrading a banking server OS in the hours between one day & the next, I ignored what I assumed to be disgruntled locals at the ATM being down shouting.

        Only to find a few minutes later it was Brinks security & rather pissed\on the verge of settling the discussion at gunpoint as to why I was there (They should have been warned in advance & if I was turfed out onto the street temporarily while they did their bit in the safe they would have been hit with a penalty).

        Icon: Wheres me gun?

        1. Nick Kew Silver badge

          @The Oncoming Scorn

          Hmmm.

          When the securicor[1] vans come round, the staff are armoured and they go through elaborate security rituals for every door they pass through. Don't give the villains a chance to insert themselves into any move!

          When the geek enters a secure area to upgrade the software, or merely to service the ATM, are there any similar procedures? Or could a random person with the build of a bouncer and a determined attitude refuse to take No for an answer and enter with you when they let you in?

          [1] Other fortified vans are available.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @The Oncoming Scorn

            At one datacentre I once had to visit often, there were elaborate procedures for tech staff to gain access. Phone calls, ticket IDs, confirmation callbacks, and so on, taking ages.

            When the pizza delivery guy turned up, though, he was buzzed straight in.

  5. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    at least they turned up...

    My aunt had a gunman demand cash and after said alarm was triggered no plod or even the other staff battered an eyelid. Turns out no one expected an armed robbery in a sleepy seaside town.

    Now that resulted in a serious bollocking all round, (save for my aunt who's still twitchy over the ordeal years later but followed procedure to the letter)

    1. AbelSoul

      Re: at least they turned up...

      Indeed. Having spent five years living in "the Govanhill area of Glasgow" I'm mildly surprised the Rozzers appeared at all.

      1. Chris King Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: at least they turned up...

        I once went on a trip to the Kelvingrove Museum, and for some reason the coach driver took us through Govanhill.

        At traffic lights, a bunch of kids started smiling and waving. Instincively, other passengers smiled and waved back, but something triggered the "what's wrong with this picture ?" part of my brain and I turned to the guy sat next to me...

        Me: Do you see what I see ?

        Him: Yeah. Piles of stones at their feet.

        Me: Big, heavy, sharp ones too. You thinking what I'm thinking ?

        Him: Smile and wave, but get ready to duck if they stop ?

        Me: Pretty much.

        Icon, because possibility of flying glass.

        P.S.

        No windows were harmed in the telling of this story

    2. ridley

      Re: at least they turned up...

      In the late 90's i was running my own business and one day i needed to pay in at the bank. Parked in the bank car park, went into the bank, payed in went out and thought i need some fags. So i wandered off down the street to the newsagents.

      When i came back, plod was everywhere and especially around my car. They were very interested in having a chat with me, very interested.

      I was held for ages before being told anything about what was going on.

      It turned out that up the road a jewellers had been robbed and the owner sadly killed.

      Now where did i come in? The robbers had been seen in a high performance muscle car. I drove a TR7...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: at least they turned up...

        I'll bet that's the first time anybody ever used "high performance muscle car" and "TR7" together in the same colophon.

        1. Putters

          Re: at least they turned up...

          Possibly not.

          Currently for sale

          https://m.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C994904

          1. jake Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: at least they turned up...

            That's no longer a TR7, Putters. That's a hand-built one-off, commonly called a "hot rod" in the vernacular.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Vauxhall Astra getaway car

        My first family car was a 1.6 astra automatic. It was stolen when I was doing an upgrade on a customer site. I realised this when I walked back to the car carrying 2 boxes of printer paper with the upgrade output and 12 open reel tapes containing the install media. In the space where I had last seen my car was now a black Capri. I still don't know why I did it but I bent down and looked under the car. I calmed on the insurance, eventually got the money through and bough another car. Many months later I was stopped by Len our head of security as 'some gentlemen need to talk to you' It turned out the 3 rather severe gents were from the CID and they grilled me about my location over 3 dates the previous year for about 10 minutes. My little astra had been used in 3 armed robberies. They were pressing me surprisingly hard and I was really beginning to sweat when I heard a noise behind me. I looked over to see Len collapsing behind the reception desk. It turns out nice urbane Len was a retired Inspector with a much more extreme sense of humour than I had previously realised.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Silent alarms

    One of the side issues in a former job was that we provided a few silent alarms. Not entirely silent as they broadcast a message on the police network. They were used in one-off situations where there was reason to expect a ...umm.... situation. One was a bank that was subject to armed robberies. I'm told the police got so slick about that one that armed robbers were met outside the bank and ushered straight into the police car without passers-by realising what was happening. More reliably I was told that at one time there were 4 lots of would-be robbers all awaiting trial.

    The police weren't always so slick. Another one was in a filling station which was repeatedly burgled. The police must have been told to go there on the alarm but not why. They rolled up, watched the burglars loading up their car and did nothing.

  7. Chris King Silver badge

    It happened over 20 years ago and besides, the machine is long dead...

    Starting at my previous job, I had to stay on late to fix a major network problem, and had closed the student labs earlier than usual.

    My PC started to have a bit of a smoke, so I decided to move it outside before things got any worse.

    Imagine the scene - the fire alarms go off, and I'm running out of a building with a PC billowing smoke, just as Mr Plod drives through the campus to deal with another incident.

    Let's just say that I faced some awkward questions, just as the machine finally caught fire. (It was old and chock-full of dust).

    One of the campus security guys then arrived on the scene, ran up to me and asked what had happened. He then grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the poor machine out of its misery, before wandering off to deal with the alarm.

    Satisfied that I appeared to have authority to run out of buildings with burning computers late at night, the coppers went on their way.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the police also used to deploy alarms that fed straight into their radio systems.

    In the days before tetra was introduced you would occasionally hear a repeated message over the air along the lines of...

    Police Alarm 432.... Police Alarm 432.... Police Alarm 432.... Police Alarm 432....

    nothing was ever reference by the control room to direct officers but all other jobs were dropped very quickly.

    I took it to mean that the officers on duty were aware of exactly what and where the alarm was attached to and there was a pre-planned response if it was triggered.

    1. GlenP Silver badge
      Unhappy

      the police also used to deploy alarms that fed straight into their radio systems

      We had one deployed at a company I worked for after two break ins to steal PCs. The robbers still managed to get in and out a third time! The police reckoned the toerags would be in-and-out in under 2 minutes so unless they happened to be very close there was little they could do.

      We employed a security guard from then on.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Holmes

        A Long Time Ago

        It was security who was stealing laptops overnight (I was the last person on-site & no access to the stores department card swipe).

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        two break ins to steal PCs

        One company I worked at got ram-raided and a load of PCs got nicked. The thieves must have congratulated themselves right up until they tried to sell them

        I suspect that IBM PS/2 50z machines didn't have much value in 1999.

        (The thieves had ram-raided the side of the building being used as a dump for old machines before they were taken away to be recycled. There was a lot of seriously old kit stored there..)

    2. rg287 Bronze badge

      the police also used to deploy alarms that fed straight into their radio systems.

      ...

      nothing was ever reference by the control room to direct officers but all other jobs were dropped very quickly.

      In a related vein I recall a school teacher who had been a Met Officer in a past life telling us of a weekend when he'd come across a fight that had spilled out of a pub and seemed to be growing as rival football fans from an opposing pub joined in. A bystander suggested that he should do something about it, but being on a lone foot patrol he wasn't about to wade into a mini-riot on his own. He tried to call it in, but on his older radio the control centre couldn't make him out over the background noise.

      So he pushed the Code 10 button. Code 10 was the panic button for "Officer down" and also engaged a locator signal to the control centre.

      Apparently within 4-5 minutes he had four panda cars, two district support units (~16 burly riot-clad officers), a couple of armed units, some traffic cops and a dog unit along with the obligatory ambulance all asking where the downed officer was.

      He was asked not to do that again unless it was actually a code 10.

      The sudden, noisy appearance of most of West London's on-duty Police apparently broke up the mini-riot without requiring any direct intervention.

      1. ExampleOne

        Sounds like the perfect way to deal with the situation: No one got hurt, the riot dissipated with no hassle.

        1. Jon 37

          He's the "boy who cried wolf". After doing that, if he was really injured and presses that button, they might not believe him which might slow the response significantly. If other people copy him and use the button inappropriately, it becomes useless for its original purpose.

          1. ridley

            Thats why good ones go up to 11.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        A "Catch 22" if ever there was one...

        "being on a lone foot patrol he wasn't about to wade into a mini-riot on his own."

        Ironically, that course of action would have resulted in a genuine code 10.

      3. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Spent one Saturday in a pub in London celebrating a mates birthday. When I left at lunchtime to go to the cashpoint I almost walked into two officers wearing what looked like body armour and holding riot helmets. They were on the opposite side of the road from another pub. Being polite I said “Hello“ and then when they didn't move their gaze "What's going on over the road?“ One of them said that this was the designated Away Supporters pub and QPR were hosting Millwall that weekend at Loftus Road. I said “Ah but there's only two of you and quite a lot of them" "Only two of us that you can see sir." he said with a wink. I went round the corner, walked on a bit and found two van loads of coppers sitting in a side street waiting.

      4. Nick Kew Silver badge

        but being on a lone foot patrol he wasn't about to wade into a mini-riot on his own

        A proper copper would've defused the situation.

        Think Sam Vimes/John Keel.

        1. Mycho Silver badge

          A proper copper would've defused the situation.

          Sounds like he did.

        2. Terje

          Sounds to me like he did exactly what Vimes would have done, (Bring in Detritus / Dorfl and the riot would quietly decide that rioting was not what they wanted to do today). Carrot had of course have solved the issue by saying how sad he was at the behaviour they showed and they would all have felt bad and gone home possibly after buying a small gif to their mothers on the way.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        of course, the old "one of our own is down, send EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING"

        compared with the citizen in distress model of "we'll send someone next tuesday, we're a bit busy dunking biscuits atm"

    3. onefang Silver badge

      "I took it to mean that the officers on duty were aware of exactly what and where the alarm was attached to and there was a pre-planned response if it was triggered."

      I wonder how long it took them to memorize the other 431 police alarms?

      1. onefang Silver badge

        "I wonder how long it took them to memorize the other 431 police alarms?"

        Coincidentally enough, I was in an office yesterday, while they where testing out the alarm system, which resulted in a very annoying very high pitched tone. The lady I was seeing told me there's 52 of these alarms, and they all sound exactly the same. So I asked how you are supposed to tell the difference and know which way to run? And then I noticed that each desk has a button under it, for each staff member to hit when it's a security alarm, that disables the alarm once every staff member has confirmed there's no security problem at their desk. I noticed this coz the people running the tests went around each desk asking "Is it you that forgot to push the button?" and seeing some go "Oops" and pressing their button.

        Still wondering why they picked that very high pitched tone, that some older people just wont hear.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Silent Alarm

    We had those. Two button thingies. Should be impossible to accidentally set off. Second line of defence, could be deactivated by secondary confirmation of false alarm.

    Somehow, extremely busy day, noisy, and I may have knocked it. But everyone else also extremely busy, noisy, and no one noticed the "silent" alarm to deactivate. Some cops turned up. Whoops.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Totally non-IT, but...

    Back in the late 70's in N. Ireland I had a student summer job working for an environmental authority. We did the menial stuff like collecting water samples, investigating pollution reports to see if a real bailiff would need to be called, etc. Great fun, out & about the countryside all week.

    One day I was out with another student worker & we stopped for our lunch. Rolling down the car window to have our sandwiches we noticed the unmistakable smell of silage effluent (horrendously poisonous to river life), and saw the traces in a nearby stream. Following it back we could see two farms on the hillside, but the stream disappeared into a culvert under the road, so we started poking about to find out which drain the stuff was coming from.

    A few minutes later there was a yell of "Oy, what are you doing?" and we looked up to see the business ends of several machine guns pointed at us, with an army landrover sitting on the road over the culvert. It was obvious what they thought we might be planting under the road (the IED is not a new idea). Without thinking I reached into a coat pocket for official ID and walked up to the guy who was obviously in charge. Explanations were accepted (the effluent smell was very obvious) and we were left to continue. It was only later that it occurred to me what might have happened if those guys had been nervous, with twitchy fingers.

    1. rg287 Bronze badge

      Re: Totally non-IT, but...

      Back in the late 70's in N. Ireland I had a student summer job working for an environmental authority. We did the menial stuff like collecting water samples, investigating pollution reports to see if a real bailiff would need to be called, etc. Great fun, out & about the countryside all week.

      More recently (early noughties), it was NI's turn to host a "Commonwealth - European Division" Championship on behalf of a sports federation. Sportspeople from across the UK, plus the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and Gibraltar all went to NI to compete.

      Two of the English athletes had a day off and arranged to borrow a car to go sightseeing. Around 5pm they realised they were completely lost, and called their long-suffering team manager who called the organising committee's support bod.

      The support bod said he'd sort it and less than 5 minutes later the athletes were in the company of two PSNI officers who - as it turns out - had been tailing and keeping an eye on them all day. Turns out (the Good Friday Agreement being less than 5 years old), the Police kept a very close eye on things like sports championships and visiting athletes from the mainland (even amateur - albeit Commonwealth-aspiring athletes - but especially ones that decided to go touring the countryside).

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Totally non-IT, but...

        Back in the '70s working for my dad as a painter and paperhanger, we were redecorating a bank branch in Caterham Surrey, Caterham had a Guards Depot and it was during 'the troubles' in Northern Ireland.

        I was hanging paper in the managers office over his built in desk, there was what I thought was a bubble of paste so I gave and extra belt with the hanging brush, then discovered it was a button that hadn't seemed to do anything.

        A few minutes later my brother tells me there's a lot of cops out side and it looks like a couple have got rifles, next thing a load of cops are in the bank with the manager explaining about the painters.

        The manager was actually aplogetic for not having warned us about where the alarms were.

        The manager was an interesting chap, he was the officer that took the surrender of one of the concentration camps at the end of the war (can't remember which one), he had the SS presentation sword that had been surrendered by the Commandant in his office.

        1. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: Totally non-IT, but...

          A long while ago, the army in Northern Ireland knew they had some bomb-makers in their general vicinity, but not where. To locate them they did something entirely counter-intuitive: they set up a laundry service.

          Not just any laundry service, mind, this one was somewhat cheaper than any other local ones, and did exemplary work. Shirts were washed and pressed to military parade standards, as well they might given that it was serving soldiers doing the work. There was only one catch to all of this, one which most of the customers cared not a hoot about: all clothing got run past a very sensitive explosives residue detector before going through the laundry.

          Pretty soon the Cheapest and Best Laundry in Belfast had served its purpose and the army had a much better idea of where the bomb factories were. So the laundry quietly closed its doors, to the great dismay of quite a lot of Irishmen who had been enjoying an exemplary standard of sartorial elegance.

          The bomb-makers were less impressed, but still very neatly turned out when finally rounded up.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Totally non-IT, but...

            Laundry with explosives detection... That's absolutely brilliant. Got to work with some UK IED experts with experience from the Troubles, back when I had an all-expense-paid visit to Iraq in '04-'05. I have tremendous respect for these men, and shall raise a pint.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Four Square Laundry

            > all clothing got run past a very sensitive explosives residue detector before going through the laundry.

            That story got mangled somewhere along the way. In reality, the technique was a lot more pedestrian (and more effective). You are talking about the short-lived predecessor of 14 Int, the MRF, a reasonable description of which is given here: https://sofrep.com/91450/military-reaction-force-northern-ireland/.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Totally non-IT, but...

      To quote Stewie Griffin: " what luck you're white. You have no idea how big that is here."

      (ok, so in this context doesn't work so well...)

  11. PickledAardvark

    Emergency Red Buttons deserve a label

    An Emergency Red Button may be placed conveniently close to the door so that staff can press it before running out of the building. Don't put it right next to the (unlabelled) release button for the magnetic door lock.

    1. Why Not?

      Re: Emergency Red Buttons deserve a label

      I always liked the site where they put the big red button (connected to the building Emergency Power off) by the door and parallel to the racks every time they opened the rack doors the fire alarm went off and the site went dark.

      Not an uncommon occurrence.

    2. J. Cook Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Emergency Red Buttons deserve a label

      Been there, done that.

      I mistook the emergency door release for a normal unlock door button at a colo site when I worked for [ISP] back in 2000/2001; The security group was *not* happy with me, but at least we didn't have to call a vendor in to reset the system or anything.

      I started to ask the stupid question of 'is there a door release button, or a presence sensor to unlock the door coming back out' the first time I went to any of the other facilities after that.

      At [RedactedCo], our emergency buttons are well labeled (and in some cases, under a molly guard).

    3. bpfh Bronze badge

      Re: Emergency Red Buttons deserve a label

      My high school’s elf of safety decided that the computer classroom needed one of those red mushrooms as a master power off switch in case of fire, and so directed the maintenance bloke to install it, by the door, about 5 feet of the deck.

      The computer classroom was small, 12 computers on 2 parallel rows of desks, for the students and one for the teacher, with the door at the back right of the room, desks extending left.

      Anyone coming to kibbutz in the room to talk to the teacher generally came in and lent against the rear wall, or a student slinking out for a bio-break was generally followed by a sudden darkness, silence, then wailing and gnashing of teeth especially when the computers were being used to write up end of year reports and where word 6’s auto save was set to 10 minutes...

  12. Marcus Fil
    IT Angle

    I was once..

    knocked to the floor by one of W Midland's finest when a posse of burly Police officers burst through the doors of my then local Natwest branch. After spending what seemed like an eternity staring at an assemblage of shocked and stunned customers and staff one officer finally asked, in a booming voice, "Right, who tripped the silent alarm?". These days I would probably been offered compensation and treatment for PTSD - back then it was just a tale to regale my mates in the pub. Mind you, at least back then the Police arrived with truncheons and not SMGs or I might not be recounting this now,

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I was once..

      Exactly, imagine something like that today but at an airport or train station..

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: I was once..

      "Right, who tripped the silent alarm?"

      "Dunno officer, what's it sound like?"

  13. englishr
    Flame

    Unintentionally silent alarm

    While working for a software startup in the mid-90s, about a month after the company moved to new offices in a refurbished brick and poured concrete industrial building, I was hacking away at some code at about 9:00pm when the (locked) main office door burst open with an enormous crash.

    Four burly firemen charged in, axes, oxygen tanks, full-face breathing masks - the works. They rapidly went office to office, checking for anyone still there - seeing me, one yells "You! Get out now! Can't you hear the alarm?" Now that the main door was open into the central stairwell / lift area, I could hear a very faint "ding, ding, ding...". I shakily beat a retreat (not enough blood in my adrenaline stream) out of the building, to find multiple police cars and fire engines in the parking lot.

    Turned out to be a false alarm.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Unintentionally silent alarm

      Exactly.

      When I was in school, fire alarms were AC-connected horns that went BZZZT!-BZZZT!-BZZZT!, and were absolutely impossible to ignore.

      Then, they added strobe lights for the deaf. No problem, although you could feel those horns in your chest, they were so loud.

      Fast forward, we move into a new building at work, and the fire alarm goes off. No strobes (I forget why), no horn, and a faint rising tone every now and then. I honestly did not recognize it as a fire alarm.

      I wasn't sure what it was, only that it didn't sound like what I thought a fire alarm should sound like.

      1. onefang Silver badge

        Re: Unintentionally silent alarm

        "fire alarms were AC-connected horns that went BZZZT!-BZZZT!-BZZZT!, and were absolutely impossible to ignore."

        There's an alarm that regularly goes off, for fire drills I assume, that I can hear from my home. It's quite a distinctive alarm. It wasn't until I was walking past the building, when it went off again and people started pouring out, that I figured out where it is. In the next suburb, on the other side of a busy street, with two sky scrapers and a train line between my home and it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unintentionally silent alarm

      "Four burly firemen charged in, axes, oxygen tanks, full-face breathing masks - the works. They rapidly went office to office, checking for anyone still there - seeing me, one yells "You! Get out now! Can't you hear the alarm?" Now that the main door was open into the central stairwell / lift area, I could hear a very faint "ding, ding, ding...". "

      In our case we pointed out the white-helmeted one with the scrambled egg that whenever the security guard had to leave the front desk he would lock the door, then when a hairy-a***ed engineer turned up, tool box in one hand, folders of documentation in the other, he would tend to lean on the door bell until the guard returned... hence we had no idea that the ringing bell was the fire alarm.

      The fire bell was changed to a siren within the week!

  14. Colabroad

    When I was working Helldesk for a bank we'd see the occasional reports of on-site engineers tripping the Chop Screen or Fogger, both of which are impressively terrifying to witness.

    The first comes down between the tellers and any potential ne'er-do-wells and named after it's effect on any fingers that may be in the way, the second reduces visibility to mere centimeters, both within less time than it takes for the engineer to say "Oh bollocks".

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      the second reduces visibility to mere centimeters

      And are still in use today - oldest brother has one in the storage yard where he stores all his company stuff. Along with an industrial-strength siren that'll probably deafen anyone caught inside.

      Doesn't stop his stuff from being stolen though. Although, in his case the fogger also seems to contain some SmartWater-alike so anything that's his and that's been nicked can be proved to be his.

      Apparently, his solicitor warned him that his preferred solution of having two large and hungry dogs there overnight was not necessarily legal..

      1. zaax

        Whilst I was in Gran Caneria a few years ago, and on the way home worst for wear rattled the front gate of a house, expecting guard dogs - two panthers came out.

        1. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge

          A chap i heard of in South Africa got so fed up with the locals raiding his property that he bought some Lionberger dogs, which bear an uncanny resemblance to adult male African lions. To improve the illusion, he kept them in an outdoor area that was readily visible from the road, together with garden furniture intended for small children.

          This gave the impression of some seriously large lions in his back garden. The thefts stopped almost overnight after this; the locals had had enough run-ins with lions to fear them.

      2. rskurat

        A family friend found a low-budget solution: prominent BIOHAZARD and DANGER - RADIOACTIVE signs placed round the building at intervals. Only one break-in in 17 years means the thieves around here have excellent vocabularies.

  15. Rtbcomp

    I set an alarm off in a bank once, it was a red footswitch under the desk, I should have realised it was there as I was working full-time for the banking division of Burroughs Machines Ltd.

    The alarm was very noisy rather than silent though.

  16. ricardian

    Apocryphal story from the 1960s when a brand-new high-tech factory opened with great ceremony. The MD was boasting of his state-of-the-art fire alarm system which dialled the XXX fire station which was a couple of miles away and a tape loop continually broadcast a message "There is a fire at Bloggs & Co factory". This was, allegedly, to avoid delays inherent in the 999 system and get the fire brigade to the scene more quickly.

    One night there was a fire at Bloggs & Co factory and it burned to the ground before the fire brigade arrived. The subsequent investigation discovered that the fire alarm system had worked perfectly. However, when the automated "There is a fire at Bloggs & Co Factory" was being sent over & over again the local telephone exchange's automated system broadcast a taped response "The telephone number for XXX fire station has changed to 01234 567890, please replace your receiver and re-dial"

    1. Loud Speaker

      Alternative version

      When I head this story (in about 1979) the alarm was at an electricity sub station, and was allegedly genuine (ie I was told by someone who claimed to have involvement when I was working for an alarm manufacturer).

  17. JJKing Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Heroin OD saved the day.

    It was only later that it occurred to me what might have happened if those guys had been nervous, with twitchy fingers.

    Or Americans.

    I provided support to a small country school that had 12 year old PCs and no money to replace them. A colleague at a large secondary school was tossing out some 5 year old laptops so I said "Yes please" and installed them at the school.

    Seven or eight months later I had departed that area but I was told about the school got broken into and the laptops nicked. The tea leafs went through the front door, into the Principal's office, opened the cupboard door that contained the school tools (school parent perhaps?) and then proceeded to open the door to the strongroom and remove the iPads. They then moved onto the classrooms and cleared out the laptops I supplied. The school was alarmed and it did go off but there was no roving guard in the area for 2 hours and 45 minutes so they had plenty of time.

    Fast forward 2 weeks and an ambulance gets called to the house of a local drug user who had an overdose. Ambulance man was a local and knew the school and was curious about a stack of laptops in junkies house that had the school name on them. The plods got a call and the school got most of their laptops and iPads back. Security company got to keep the contract since it was a govt one but the tools found a new secure location.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bullet proof glass

    I was once given the task of installing a desk and computer terminals in a bunch of new customer interview rooms for a much hated government agency. Me and another chap set about doing this over the course of a weekend running cables and doing our best to have them all powered and ready for Monday morning. We were very proud of our work and came in on Monday morning to a very quiet atmosphere and almost everyone in the office staring in my direction as I sailed into the office. The I.T. director pulled me into one of the interview rooms along with another colleague and explained in the nicest possible way that the desks and computer equipment were meant to be on the staff side of the interview rooms "behind" the reinforced glass. Luckily he saw the funny side and 5 of us including my boss and the director spent all day Monday fixing 'my' mistake with 3 of us staying on till midnight to ensure the work was done properly. I rarely make my own decisions now.

  19. Tom 7 Silver badge

    I did a bank robbery once.

    Actually I just trimmed the feet on my sheep and then sprayed their feet with the violet antiseptic and got it all over my hands and when I went for a pint someone thought it was the dye put in a money bag from a robbery a few towns away. Fortunately I smelled heavily of sheep so the rozzers didnt bother me for long. I could never work out if the shoulder injury was from the arrest or the bloody sheep.

  20. Yes Me Silver badge
    IT Angle

    99... 9

    Many long years ago (before telephone exchanges were actually computers) I often phoned a friend whose number happened to end in 99. In those days, although the emergency number was 999, some electromechanical exchanges, if they received 99 and nothing else, would treat it as 999 after a certain timeout. So one time I phoned my friend, there was apparently a glitch while I was dialling, since the answer I got was "Emergency, which service do you require?" To which, somewhat surprised, I answered "Jesus Christ." They didn't put me through.

  21. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Absolutely not IT...

    ...but great use of available tools. Worked in a pretty high security installation, and couldn't help but notice a huge amount of police activity at a gate.

    Turns out a lady driving alone felt she was being followed by a couple of guys. This had been going on for a number of turns, and they had already "bumped" her vehicle. Decided to drive to a public place to see if they would back off, saw our gate, and went for it. Don't know if she realized it had armed guards, but good move!

    Idiots behind her followed her in that last turn; probably realized they screwed up but were boxed in by everyone else entering the gate. Ended up looking down the wrong end of some fine Beretta and Remington products. With very excited men behind them.

  22. Montreal Sean

    Happened to me.

    I was replacing a POS system in a cheque cashing/Western Union store.

    These places have very tightly controlled access, with thick bullet proof glass and doors.

    One of the employees had gone outside for a smoke and when they came back in asked me to buzz them in.

    I pressed the silent alarm button by mistake.

    Who puts the door release button right next to the alarm button? And doesn't make the alarm button red?

    The police response was swift. There were 3 cars and 6 officers with guns drawn, all within a couple of minutes.

  23. js.lanshark
    Facepalm

    We're just cleaning the floors, honestly!

    Not much of an IT angle, but I worked for a cleaning company a long while back. A new guy was given the task of buffing the floors with one of those electric buffers. Gently lift the handle and the buffer (which had a big round motor driven buffing pad) and it swung one way, gently push down and it went the other way. Heavy bugger. If you weren't careful, you could really bang the walls. Yep, one wall was adjacent to the vault.

    Police were not amused.

  24. Eat Pineapple

    Silent Alarm

    At a bank where I'm working at the moment, they are implementing a new AV system for the meeting rooms. Looking at the test version of one of the standalone units, they have incorporated a passive infra-red detector into the cabling loom at rear, presumably triggering in the event that anybody decides to have a poke around. Clever!

  25. ricardian

    This is a true story because I was living in Scarborough at the time (1980s) and received one of the publicity leaflets from BT praising their new domestic fire detection system which would sense a fire and automatically alert the fire brigade. I received the leaflet a few weeks before a catastrophic fire destroyed Scarborough's main telephone exchange which was only manned during office hours and did not have one of their wonderful new fire detection systems. The local paper had great fun with that story

  26. ICPurvis47
    Facepalm

    Accidental Bank Robber

    On holiday in Buxton, we were intending to visit one of the museums (musea?). As I was short of the readies, I told wife and kids to go to the museum, and I'd meet them there after I'd "robbed the bank". Went into Barclay's and withdrew a few notes, and on leaving, was passed by several very red-faced puffing coppers going in the opposite direction. I realised later that someone must have heard me say "rob the bank", and called the police. Strolled nonchalantly away hoping I'd not feel the heavy hand on the shoulder.

  27. J. Cook Silver badge
    Pint

    Not a police story...

    ... but definitely a case of 'unlabeled pull handle does something much different than expected'.

    I was working at a local fast food place (with the big yellow arches) to give me spending/pocket money going through vo-tech school, and they put me back in the grill area. I was a fresh and young 19 years old. One day, we were doing a detail clean of the grill area,which involved pulling out the freezer cabinets and tables next to the giant industrial grills (which were also on wheels). This moron, thinking that it was a pull handle for the cabinet, accidentally pulled the manual release for the Ansul system (fire prevention) and put the entire restaurant out of commission for the remainder of the day to perform a much more detailed clean than what we had expected. (that system uses a powdered fire retardant propelled by pressurized gas, and also cuts power to the grills as well.) green-blue powder EVERYWHERE, including the fryer vats.

    Turns out that some electrical work also needed to be done during the cleanup; one of the grill connections was loose or something. There were sparks. Plus, the system needed to be serviced and reset. (there's the IT angle!)

    I managed to not get fired because I honestly didn't know what it was, nor was it properly labeled, and it was explicitly mentioned during new hire orientation from then on.

    1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Not a police story...

      So a chap I know who worked at a southern fried joint said the recipe for their infamous gravy is: sweep up all the crust granules that fall off the chicken while it sits breeding salmonella under the heat lamp, add water, stir vigorously until it is gravy.

      And then there was the time the morning's sweepings hit the floor ....

      Not quote your level of mess, but not a good taste either!

  28. Potemkine! Silver badge

    These guys are lucky

    In the Us they would have been shot, just in case.

    1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: These guys are lucky

      Ugh. Sad but likely

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back in the late 90s, the company I worked for did custom PC hardware, that included an external PSTN dial up modem, which would be used to dial into a set of modem racks we had in a data centre. This had some custom software to manage all this.

    One of the guys was doing some changes to the software, and was testing it out to make sure it could dial ok. The modem wouldn't work without a dial tone, so he plugged it into one of the internal lines, and sure enough it worked.

    It was a short while later that something dawned on him, his test configuration had 999999999 as the phone number, and you can guess what digit you needed to press to get an outside line!

    Thankfully no police showed up, I suspect the poor recipient at the other end probably just assumed it was an errant fax machine!

    1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

      I'm sure we all remember Fax spam fondly

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