Emails describe injury, panic during toilet explosions at GSA

One hospitalized, one injured, 2,500 amused and frightened by killer commodes


Life lessons learned from exploding toilets:

If you're wondering what the IT angle is on all this, the incident and coverage of it bring up two important points: First, if you have a critically important, complex network of any kind, filled with any thing, that is working adequately, DO NOT TOUCH IT. If it works right now you will not make it work better. You will break it. In fact, if it works now, it is waiting for you to mess with something so it can collapse dramatically, with catastrophic consequences. Since the network and content in it are both inanimate, that superstition makes no sense. That doesn't matter. It's true. Ask any network admin, plumber or DIY mechanic: try to improve something when nothing much is wrong and whatever you're trying to fix will punish you for bothering it. Mark my words.

In this case someone figured the water system needed a little extra jolt to get the water moving or blast away air bubbles blocking up a pipe. Then they forgot to turn the pumps back off again.

Second, no hugely incriminating details have come out in any of the FOIA documents yet, but all the documents involved are email messages, not financial reports or contracts or any of the other material people usually think of when they talk about documentary evidence that will show up in court during lawsuits or which has to be handled according to strict protocol governed by a corporate compliance officer.

All of the emails were legitimate targets for the FOIA request; they were sent by government employees using government systems, talking about an incident involving government employees in a government building being injured by flying shards of government toilet.

Even if you work at a private company, the same emails, IMs and other documents are fair game for e-discovery efforts by opposing counsel – meaning lawyers for the people that are suing your company get to sift through sometimes gigabytes of email looking for evidence proving who blew up the toilet and why.

Just something to think about in case someone walks in and wonders whether it's the best use of your time to be clicking around looking for more juicy details about the whole exploding-government-toilet situation. Yes. It is a good use of your time, and not only in case you have to defend yourself against homicidal plumbing.

Everything's relevant, even exploding toilets, if you look at it right.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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