How not to save money, Christmas-in-August edition

It's the late 1980s, and this pilot fish works for a university in the southern U.S. in the computer center, which is located in the basement of a 16-story building.

"The university closed for two weeks every year for the Christmas holiday," says fish. "One year they decided to save some money by turning all the air conditioning completely off while everyone was gone.

"This would have been OK, except that year was the coldest December anyone could remember. The air conditioning was a water chiller type, so there was water standing in the pipes when a cold snap hit -- and the pipes froze and broke."

Fish is on call, and he gets the alert to hurry to the campus to deal with a disaster. That's exactly what he finds: Water from broken pipes on the upper floors is pouring through the ceiling into the computer center offices and hallways.

Fortunately, none of the broken pipes are directly over the computer room. But water is coming into the hallway outside the computer room. That water is running into the room and, naturally, draining into the space under the raised floor.

By the time fish arrives, the operations supervisor has already taken boxes of punch cards and built a dam in a semicircle a few feet from the computer room door. That keeps the water at bay.

But equipment throughout the rest of computer center gets water damaged, and it takes days to clean up the mess.

And not everything can be so easily mopped up. "Some stuff in my office got wet, including a print of a drawing of an F-16 that had fallen off my wall behind my credenza," fish says. "My squadron commander's wife had drawn the original, and he had prints made and gave them out as people left the squadron.

"In addition, the campus library was above us. That's where a pipe broke and damaged part of the library's collection of old, old, old books.

"I don't think they turned the air conditioning off during Christmas break again after that."

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