Friday, July 31, 2009

Presentation timer leads to a visit from the bomb squad

Many Toastmasters clubs use fancy, programmed presentation timers. This device consists of a lunchbox holding three colored lights. It looks similar to a traffic light, and is wired to a digital timer. Both pieces sit on the table in view of the speaker. The lights warn the speaker about how he is doing relative to his allotted time. For example, for a 5 to 7 minute speech the green light goes on at 5 minutes, the yellow at 6 minutes, and the red at 7 minutes. These timers used to sell for ~$250. I saw one being used just yesterday.

On Tuesday morning, July 28th, in north metro Columbus, Ohio an employee set up such a programmed timer in a conference room at the JP Morgan Chase Bank’s McCoy Center complex. Unfortunately someone else did not recognize that device. They decided it looked suspiciously like a time bomb. After panicking they called in an emergency shortly after 10:00 am. A couple thousand of the approximately 8,500 people were evacuated from Wings J through P of the 2 million-square-foot building.

By 10:15 am the Columbus Division of Fire had responded with their bomb squad, robot, and paramedics. They eventually identified that the device in question was, in fact, quite harmless. Meanwhile, many employees waited out in the parking lot. Several were overcome by the heat, and were treated by paramedics. Shortly after 1:00 pm the emergency finally was over, and all employees were allowed back into the building.

What did this fiasco cost? Assume 2000 people times 3 hours, times $16 per hour, and the result would be $96,000. That’s a really expensive timer!

If you have an iPhone, then you can get a presentation timer application program for $2 or less. Toastmasters also sells a little flip book with three 6” by 8” timing cards for just $2.50.

At our Toastmasters club we are low-tech, so our Timekeeper uses a $10 Deluxe Sports Stopwatch from Radio Shack. We have three homemade cloth flags that one of our crafty members made. Our Timekeeper holds them up in succession to show the speaker how they are doing. So far we have not been visited by our bomb squad.

James Feudo mentioned this fiasco yesterday on his Overnight Sensation blog. He concluded that it gave new meaning to the expression that: “My speech is THE BOMB”. I saw two more newspaper reports about the incident, and thought it was bizarre enough to tell again with a bit more detail.

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