The following events
were reported in "Disaster.
Then: '88 Hours Of Pure Hustle,'" Think, April 1971, pp. 12-16.
Friday, February 26, 1971
Volkswagen South-Central Distributors, Inc., is operating as usual in San Antonio, Tex. It is the last business day of the month for the firm, which provides 70 VW dealers in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming with everything from auto parts to inventory control and dealer accounting.
An IBM System/360 Model 40 is making its usual heavy demands on several reels of magnetic tape and disk packs as computer room employees of the Volkswagen of America regional parts center prepare month-end inventory, orders and accounting reports for VW dealers.
Elsewhere in the Volkswagen complex, workers use an electric buffer to polish a new floor covering. Suddenly, without warning, the buffer shorts. Sparks from the machine ignite a solvent used on the floor. Within seconds, the area is ablaze. As flames spread through the building, switchboard operators announce the fire over a P.A. System. The building is evacuated within 90 seconds. The entire 175,000 square-foot building soon is engulfed in fire.
Computer room operators are among 200 people who flee to safety. As Computer Operations Manager Al C. Herbrich leaves the room, he remembers an instruction in the emergency plan and quickly closes the door of the computer room vault. This proves to be a valuable act.
Charles E. Teat, an IBM Field Engineering (FE) Division field manager in San Antonio hears news bulletins about the fire while driving to the office. He wonders what is happening to all the data processing equipment inside the building.
Meanwhile, IBM Data Processing Division (DPD) San Antonio Branch Manager Gayle M. Jackson makes two critical decisions: He dispatches IBM's VW Marketing Representative W. Badger Robertson to the scene, and then he telephones his district headquarters in Dallas. "Please help me line up the proper support," he says. "We may need a new computer."
At VW, $8 million worth of building and car parts and a million-dollar computer system sizzle into ashes. Salesman Robertson reaches the scene and locates VW Data Processing Manager Eugene R. Goettsch. After determining that the computer is totally destroyed, they set up temporary headquarters in the nearest business establishment: a tavern. Robertson calls the branch and finds IBM ready for the bad news. "In a matter of minutes," he recalls, "the whole company was poised for action."
Contemplating the charred remains of a System/360 central processing unit is San Antonio Marketing Representative Badger Robertson. The fire is so hot that aluminum castings on tape drives melt -- and aluminum melts at 1,220 degrees.
On Jackson's instructions, Robertson locates the Volkswagen facility's controller and makes a commitment: "IBM will provide you with a new computer within a few days."
Meeting in the branch office, Jackson, FE Branch Manager Arthur C. Curtis, Teat, Field Manager Jimmy J. Matthews, VW Account Marketing Manager William B. Kaufman, and Edwin P. (Skip) Schroeder, administrative operations manager, formulate a "battle plan." People and machines have to be moved. Curtis, Teat and Matthews divide the technical tasks. Kaufman is assigned the list of IBM people to be notified. Schroeder draws the telephone detail. His will be the job of coordinating the procurement of a million-dollar computer system.
In Los Angeles, Don LaPointe, staff assistant in the orders and scheduling department of IBM's Western Region Headquarters, mans the telephones and begins lining up the system's "boxes."
In San Antonio, Jackson rapidly makes three more decisions:
In Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Charles G. Glance, manager of scheduling for the IBM Systems Manufacturing Division (SMD) plant, sleeps peacefully Friday evening. He is recuperating from pneumonia but he will soon be directing men and machinery from his sickbed.