Disaster recovery plan, step 1: Create a disaster

It's decades ago at this military site that handles long-range communications -- at the center of which are six high-power radio transmitters, says a pilot fish working as a tech there.

And there's another kind of high-powered problem on the way. "An inspector from the Inspector General's office was due to visit the site, and someone in our leadership panicked," fish says.

"Electronics tech types everywhere like to rat-hole their favorite spare parts off the books, 'just in case,' and somebody had been hiding a couple dozen mercury-vapor rectifier tubes."

Nobody is willing to authorize just throwing out the brand-new devices, so fish and his cohorts get their marching orders: Replace as many of the rectifier tubes already in the transmitters as possible, as quickly as possible.

As soon as they get the first set of rectifiers in, power is applied -- and the wall-mounted circuit breakers are immediately tripped.

Fish's superior tells him to reset the breakers. He does. The breakers trip a second time. Do it again, superior says. Fish does.

This time there's a flash and a bang, the wall-mounted breakers are no longer on the wall, and the lights go out. Thirty seconds later, fish hears the emergency power generators starting up.

"They didn't wait long enough for the mercury-vapor tubes to warm up, so they arced across, causing the first breaker trip," sighs fish. "The second breaker trip caused the damaged tubes to fuse the plates together. The second reset fused the burned wall breaker contacts, creating a direct unprotected path back to the main power distribution -- which tripped who-knows-what.

"And by the way, the IG inspector never did show up at the site..."

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