If only the private sector got turnaround times like this.

Jun 03, 2009

Not too far away from where I live is Tyson's Corner, Virginia, a veritable hotspot of commerce, .com site headquarters, overpriced stores, and shopping malls of assorted shapes, sizes, and funny looks given if you walk in wearing ripped jeans and a "DIE YUPPIE SCUM" t-shirt. Since I moved into the DC metroplex back in '05 the Tyson's Corner area has been in one stage or another of the planning and construction of a new Metrorail station. Obviously, this involves a certain amount of disruption of daily life from crews busily tearing up the roads, highways, sidwalks, and parking lots.

In short, it's not too different from Pittsburgh in some respects.

If you've ever worked in IT or telecom, you're no doubt familiar with a phenomenon known as the fibre seeking backhoe, which is just what the name says it is, only you won't find many of the other words that tend to accompany this term in Newton's Telecom Dictionary. One would think that the contracting company running the heavy machinery would take the time to ring up the little "before digging call" number posted everywhere before steel hit asphalt and earth, and in a perfect world you'd be correct. However, it's quite another thing when they hit an undocumented line and Men In Black come out of the woodwork to investigate.

In the past year or two just this scenario has played itself out a number of times. The story is more or less the same: backhoe goes to work in the morning, backhoe meets buried conduit underground, backhoe engages in impromptu bondage scene with conduit full of optical fibre, optical fibre breaks and cuts off data links connecting government facilities. At least, that's the most popular hypothesis in the land of the Three Letter Agency. No other organizations would have SUVs carrying people with badges and ID cards showing up within minutes of the outage. More's the point, no other organizations could have AT&T on site the same day to repair the break. The hell of it is that the contracting companies aren't told about the so-called black lines when they call for info nor are they found on the maps they're routinely given of the utility runs in the vicinity of their worksites.