Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An account from VT

 Ludwig Gantner is a very good friend of mine and has a lot of my respect. He's about my age and his work ethic and intelligence have taken him to a very high position at Virginia Tech.

Ludwig basically runs all network, A/V, and satelite communication that goes in and out of VT. He's not in charge of it, but he makes it all happen.

He is an Austrian immigrant and he sounds like Arnold when he talks. His reccounting of the last few days is facinating.

Lockdown again...
We're under lock down again here in my building. Meaning no one in and no one out that has not been security checked. Apparantely other 'operational centers will be positioned in our conference facilities'. At least they're feeding us here as long as we can't leave.
Since I got time before our next critical meeting I'm gonna make notes of the last 2 days to remember what happened from this perspective here.

Monday morning I drove to work noticing an unsual amount of cop cars around campus. Then coming into the office I was told that there was a bomb thread on Friday and something else happened early this morning. Soon after the news were filled with the morning shooting and that a gunman was on the loose. Suddenly all buildings were under lock down, so I was coordinating with people to get our technicians from the rooms all over campus back to Whittemore. Also our building was locked and a swat team stationed outside. Then more news trickeled in, we got news from listening to the police channels and from what the media reported, most was contradictary and cuased huge confusion. Then as a panic broke out so to say, all our telephone and internet circuits got over loaded, it was like everybody at once was trying to access the internet or call someone. So we kept doing damage control as much as we could without leaving the building to physically reboot switches. Then we all listened to the police radios that described a horrific scene, much worse then the news reports at the time. A couple dozen killed, blood everywhere, nuts.
Then the news channels also heard about it and it became national news. We checked in with everyone, like the sca check ins and most people got accounted for. Except for 2 listservs that I am on. One is the CAP, civil air patrol listserv, where one kid was shot, and the other is our SBES listserv where two teachers were lost and one was wounded. I still remember a phone conversation I had with a coworker across campus who told me that one of our professors died and I was like "Yes, I know". After a little conversation we found out that we talked about 2 different people, which made it much worse.
Around 1-2pm they also evacuated our building here and myself and my boss's boss where about the last ones to leave after verifying that all our guys had been accounted for. I was escorted by the police to main street, passing an armored truck with what looked like soldiers with machine guns, and from there went back to my apartment.
There Tatjana and I just relaxed for a bit but my phone kept ringing from people asking me if I was ok and if I knew of others. This went on for most of the afternoon and with people talking loudly all around the apartment building, T and I decided to just leave town for a while. So we went in the car and drove down Harding Ave. Just outside of city limits the road was closed and we were told to turn around since there was a head on collision that blocked the road.
So we went the other way and drove up 460 and then turned at little backroads, found the Natural Bridge and through twisting little roads came to the Cascades. No one was out there and with no cell coverage it finally became peaceful. We walked up the Cascades and just relaxed on a rock which was over hanging the river. For the first time that day it was quiet.
At night we went back to my apartment where someone at the 3rd floor was playing loud music. My apartment is at the bottom floor and it was so annoying that I nearly called the cops on him since my apartment complex is supposed to be quiet. But I decided against it and at 12:30am most people finally calmed down. We proactively decided not to listen to news reports that night since there was nothing we could do about it.
Tuesday morning, VA Tech was closed, but like Thomas I had to be in first thing in the morning. Apparantely VA Tech deicded to have a convocation to mourn the lost and no-one less than President Bush and First Lady were coming. Also others like the Governor, the Senators, basically everybody who's someone. Also we were going to broadcast the news feed to no less than 60 networks, do 2 satellite uplinks at the same time and create a video conference of massive proportions. We had a list of sites on the schedule which made our mornally huge H20 conference look like child's play but in reality we had to connect about every remote site in our database. Also the event was planned to be live streamed so we had to aquire bandwidth from everywhere to make it happen.
Then comes the first hitch, apparantely not our TV crew but 'Athletic Serives' who are in charge of Cassel Coliseum wanted to broadcast the convocation. Only one feed was allowed in the stadium. So the plan then was that 'Athletic Services' would create audio and video, send it to us and we send it- literally- to the whole world. No other crews were allowed in the colisum due to security. So for the next 5 hours my department is a madhouse, we call news stations, test satellite uplinks, confirm with technicians around the world, send our 'color bars' and tone to as far away as Hong Kong and 30 minutes prior to live time we are finally confident that we are ready. I was put in charge of this massive broadcast, aka taking the signal from the coliseum and sending it - everywhere. But I personally had not heard that the mics from inside the colisum had been tested so I get on the phone, none of my techs is allowed in since the President was arriving and you needed special clearance and 'Athletic Services' was not answering.
So I escalated it all the way up to the President of our Head Department and the Provost's office. Finally we got notice that Athletic Services had tested but asked not to test anymore before live time. I insisted that we test again but was over ruled. My boss and his boss insisted that we have to test and were over ruled. Then a note came down the food chain that we should not annoy the Athletic guys since we might need their help for big conferences. So I shot back: "The President of the United States is here. We are the only feed out and are supplying more than 60 major networks. Our feed is being broadcasted to millions of people, it doesn't get much bigger than this!" I started to get seriously angry- and people who know me know how difficult that is- in my job we do not let anything to chance. We test and test and then we test again. Also we got reports in that the audio in the live stream was seriously muffled, so we listened to it and it was audible but of poor quality. Now for the live stream we here at the VNOC were responsibly to generate the available bandwidth but we were not responsible for the audio/ video since our TV crews were not being used. Regardless we tried to get in contact with Athletic Services who were very unresponsive.
Then 2pm- Convocation is supposed to start. We recieve video. We make the switch, all lights turn green. Satellite links hold, all networks confirm they have video, the live stream gets bombarded with people but stays up. Not bad. Then the first speaker goes out and... nothing. No audio. No audio period. I was Holy damn ...
The President giving a speech and no audio. We all looked at each other: "What now?" We only take the feed and do something with it, but there's no audio! We call athletic services, no reply. We curse them everything and their mother. Then I had an idea.
So I turned to my boss, then his boss, and said: "I can give you audio BUT this might be... illegal." To make the longest 2 minutes of my life very short. He gave the official word and we did it. I might tell you all about it when I'm allowed, was pretty ingenius. Then 2 minutes late the convocation started. Luckily the President was not the first speaker. We then had a few 'minor' to this problems but we kept it running for the whole 2 hours. My boss went home with a serious headache afterwards and I wanted to do the same. I hate politics!
Anyway on the good news I had the schuh posted outside out building with cameras so we got really good shots of the president going by, all the helicopters, 'tanks', fighters, aso. I'll post them to the on-campus people pretty soon, but I can also put a link on here...
Then last night all conferences got cancelled due to what happened, but one with Japan. Where the people did not care what happened here. Needless to say they also caused big headaches because of their technicians not doing their job. But we also got it up and running.
Last night Tatjana and I then went to Candle gathering on the drill field. It was pretty cool to see thousands of students gathering and supporting each other. Something interesting though- most students who gave out the candles there were of Asian origin. First I didn't think much about it, but then it downed on me that all of them were out there bc they were afraid of a backlash against them since the shooter was Asian. Also some of the calls in my offce report that there are is a lot of harrassing of Asian students going on right now. Which I think totally sucks. Just bc that one bastard looked similar ot them, all of them have to be worried.
T and I had long discussions in my apartment afterwards about all that happened and then we went to bed around midnight. Now admittengly all the above did affect me more then I though but after talking about it and getting an independent perspective it was all good. T has this gift to make the whole world look much better- I'm very lucky to have found her.
Today work is very slow- heck I have time to write all the above- have only been in one meeting and another is coming up in a little over an hour. All classes, conferences, aso have been cancelled for today. We only have a few news broadcasts that we have to deal with. But it's gonna be interesting to see what is going to happen, some of our programs will most likely get terminated, most notably the one where we lost 2 teachers, but common oppinion is that is now time to push and move on. To make changes now. VT had a huge momentum going and our job now is to keep it going!

Source: ludwigvbs: Lockdown again...