Well at least nobody’s parking there any more

There is a field next to the Microsoft building I used to work in, and for a time, people parked their cars out on the field, presumably because finding a proper parking space in the garage became difficult due to overcrowding. To prevent people from parking in the field, Security placed a large log across the access to the field. The technique worked: Nobody parked in the field any more.

Some months later, our building had a fire drill, and everybody dutifully filed out of the building and waited until the all-clear signal was given to return. Normally, people would wait in the field, because that is the designated assembly area for the building, but oh wait, Security blocked off access to the field. Instead, people waited in the fire lane.

Good thing this was just a drill, because they would have gotten run over by a fire truck.

I pointed out to the Life Safety Security representative who was running the fire drill that Parking Security had created a life safety hazard. My observations were duly noted, and it looks like somebody actually paid attention, because a few weeks later, the log was removed. Now if there's a real fire, we can actually reach our designated assembly area.

I just found it ironic that the Security department created a safety hazard.

Comments (31)
  1. Mott555 says:

    In high school the alarm system got updated. They replaced our old physical bell system with electronic speakers. One day they had a surprise drill and we weren't sure what the new alarm meant. The entire school assumed it was a fire drill and left the building. As we were standing in the parking lot, the principal came out and yelled at us. "Congratulations, you're all dead! That was a tornado drill!"

    After that they had the system reprogrammed with voice messages stating exactly what kind of alarm it was.

  2. Rick C says:

    So Security should have put up a "No Parking" sign instead of the log.  (I'm assuming that employee parking requires a sticker, and that from that, Security would be able to determine the owner of a car who parked in the field once the sign was up, and that before going after people they would have issued a notification that parking is now forbidden in the field after a certain date.)

  3. Adam Rosenfield says:

    Why didn't they just move the log a little bit to leave a gap wide enough for people but too narrow for a car?  Is that too much of a bottleneck for an evacuation?

  4. Jonathan says:

    …Or place a barrier that suggests "no cars, only pedestrians"?

    But yes, security devices routinely become safety hazards – a door lock can impede one's exit in case of emergency.

  5. J says:

    How big was this log? Is the field really only accessible through a point that can be easily blocked by a log?

  6. Jon says:

    The building's on fire and you can't climb over a log?

    [It's hard to climb in a wheelchair. But yes, if it was a real fire, people would've figured out some alternate means to get away, but still, it's a safety hazard to block the primary means of egress. -Raymond]
  7. Joshua says:

    It's normal for dedicated security to break everything else.

  8. Adam Piggott says:

    Hop over the log? Move the log? Put up "no parking" stickers? Maybe Microsoft should have supplied sufficient parking spaces or an initiative to reduce the number of cars parking at the campus! Don't resolve the symptom, resolve the problem. The field was a hack…and the log in front of the field was an ugly hack!

    [The log felt like a Q&D solution that nobody really thought through. (The City of Redmond dictates how many parking spaces a company is allowed to have. And Microsoft already has an extensive extensive employee trip reduction program.) -Raymond]
  9. J says:

    @Tom: to get your interpretation, I think people would usually write: "there is a field, next to the Microsoft building, I used to work in" and even that sounds weird. Why are you attaching the relative clause to the phrase further away from it instead of the one right next to it, especially when the latter makes more sense?

  10. JamesNT says:

    I saw this kind of thing all the time at the manufacturing facilities I used to work at.  Department A would make some decision that created some type of hardship – including safety violations – for Department B.  Or the safety commity would solve one problem only to create another.

    When one company I worked for celebrated 1 million safe working hours without a disabling injury, I almost couldn't believe it.


  11. Testing123 says:

    Why couldn't people have simply walked around the log or stepped over it?  Not that difficult.

  12. Dan says:

    I don't see how this would help.  Obviously in a real fire everyone would be standing in the fire lane toasting marshmallows even if access to the field was open.

    PS, I also assume no one at your building owned a Jeep at the time; a mere logs would never stop one of them.  Don't believe me, ask a fanboi.  :)

  13. Ben Voigt says:

    Seems some commentators do not fully understand the entire range of sizes logs are available in.  Since it was described as a "large" log, most likely it could not be traversed by Jeep or stepping over.

    [The log was around three feet in diameter. Not something you could step over. You could climb over it with effort, but it would probably damage your clothing. -Raymond]
  14. Bob says:

    I just found it ironic that the Security department created a safety hazard.

    What does security have to do with safety? I'd find it ironic if the safety department created a safety hazard or if security caused a security issue.

  15. David Walker says:

    I wondered why parking in the field was a bad thing, if it was done due to overcrowding in the parking garage… until I saw Raymond's comment that the city restricts how many parking spaces a company can have.  I presume that limit is lower than the number of employees…

  16. Reminds me when I had to gain admin privileges of my manager's computer in 2001 to prepare it for a demo (he knows about this incident :)) – the antivirus installed by MS IT turned out to be the easiest target. To "secure" MS computers, MS IT used to install antivirus … into the root of c: drive, without properly securing the installation directory. So it took about 5 min to replace the service with EXE that gave me admin rights after reboot. It took much longer to explain to MS IT what's wrong with the antivirus setup.

  17. Adam Rosenfield says:

    What are the city of Redmond's rules regarding parking?  Is the limit on the total number of spaces?  Spaces per employee?  Spaces per square mile or something?

    [A little Web searching turns up Required Off-Street Parking which sets minimum and maximum values. -Raymond]
  18. Gabe says:

    So it looks like Redmond requires 4-5 spots per 1000 sq. ft. of gross floor area. My guess is that MS employs 8-10 people per 1000 sq. ft.

  19. jason says:

    The principal at my high school would chain and padlock the exits on the sides and rear of the school to prevent anyone from sneaking off campus. Of course if there was ever an emergency there would have been a bunch of dead kids but that didn't seem to be as important as catching a few burnouts trying to skip class.

  20. Tom says:

    "There is a field next to the Microsoft building I used to work in"

    Sorry be a smart *** but that reads like you worked in the field?

  21. JM says:

    @Tom: good catch, delicious ambiguity. That opens up the possibility that Raymond actually worked for Security at the time, and was in charge of Maintaining the Log (Auditing the Log?). The same log he then pointed out as a safety hazard.

    I wouldn't be surprised to learn he was actually the Life Safety Security representative *and* the person who removed the log as well, for maximum effect.

  22. Larry Hosken says:

    Looking over these comments, I see a universal truth: People assume that log storage is simple (though it often isn't).

  23. cheong00 says:

    Maybe Microsoft should create a subsidized company that have a building solely for car park?

    I assume that when the company's main business is car park, the limit can be lifted/exempted?

    We had a 7 store building owned by MTR near a place I worked, that the whole building only serves the purpose of carpark. The carpark provides half day parking for people who wish to change to MTR.

  24. Neil says:

    @Larry Hosken: Should the log have been rotated, or was it a circular log?

  25. I always like being told "You can't stand there! You're blocking the fire exit"

    The response to that is invariably "If there was a fire, I wouldn't still be standing here."

  26. Brian_EE says:

    Do geeks own chainsaws? Seems to me it wouldn't have been too hard (even a 3' diameter log) to come by on the weekend and reopen the parking lot.

  27. Danny Moules says:

    "What does security have to do with safety? I'd find it ironic if the safety department created a safety hazard or if security caused a security issue."

    Quite. Security & safety are often at odds. Paraphrasing a conversations I had once:

    "This is a fire drill, stop doing that!!!"

    "You mean unplugging the full-disk encrypted server?"


    "You're aware it's Health and Safety policy to completely abandon this facility, security personnel included."

    "Yes, exactly. So?"

    "So anyone who triggers the fire alarm gets a free lunch at the data if I don't unplug it – making a fire alarm the best way to steal our sensitive data."

    "*pause* Lock the door!"

    "I can't lock the door any more than I can unplug this PC – in full accordance with H&S regulations *pause* Why don't you install an automatic lock?"

    "That's not in my budget."

    "Aren't you the property manager?"

    "Yes, but we don't have a budget for automatic locks."

    "That sounds like your problem, not mine."

  28. "When one company I worked for celebrated 1 million safe working hours without a disabling injury, I almost couldn't believe it."

    A software company feeling the need to celebrate that milestone would be alarming; a factory or saw-mill, much less so. Apart from anything else, a company Microsoft's size (almost 100k) must clock up a million working hours multiple times per week…

    Michael Entin's tale reminds me of having to scrape a security product off a laptop with a (virtual) hammer; a visiting professor from a large (non-IT) multinational had a very locked-down laptop from their IT department. Slightly too locked down, they discovered: 500 miles from the office, it locked them out of remote access and blocked other important things.

    @Brian_EE: I would imagine there are still security patrols and cameras around – carving up a substantial tree trunk would be loud and time-consuming enough I'm sure they'd notice.

    Having said that, our own campus Estates and Buildings people seem to delight in locking down and otherwise obstructing exits and entrances – largely a power-trip on their part I suspect. They recently locked the only exit on the north side of my building, adding a paper sign 'this door must remain locked' – no explanation for this, and no security gain either since it was a one-way door already.

  29. Gabe says:

    Brian EE: None of the geeks I know have chainsaws that will cut through a 3' tree!

  30. Brian_EE says:

    @Gabe: That must be the difference between city geeks and rural geeks. Here in the Finger Lakes region of NY, where we have rolling hills and country, and Kodak, Xerox, B&L, etc. it is not uncommon.

  31. Gabe says:

    Brian EE: I'm not saying they don't have chainsaws, but I don't know about cutting through a 3' log with them.

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