Mission: critical or impossible?

Cabling installers and network administrators often hear and use the expression "mission critical." The term describes data that is so important that its timely and unmolested delivery to all intended recipients is paramount.

Patrick McLaughlin

Cabling installers and network administrators often hear and use the expression "mission critical." The term describes data that is so important that its timely and unmolested delivery to all intended recipients is paramount.

Tom Cruise, on the other hand, starred in a movie entitled "Mission: Impossible." Many who saw the movie walked away unclear as to whether those words were intended to be the movie`s name or a brief description of what it was like to follow the story line. Regardless, in one scene of the movie, Cruise`s character, Ethan Hunt, sneaks into a highly sensitive and tightly secured government building and, thanks to typical movie-star heroics, he is able to walk out with even more highly sensitive information--all in a quest to save the world from bad guys, of course.

What do Tom Cruise and cabling installers have in common? One installer who lives and works just outside Washington, DC, will tell you that in addition to strikingly similar physical features, he and Cruise share something else: They both have been amid top-secret government information at a time when they were in imminent danger, although for this installer, no movie set was involved. The situation was real.

Hired to complete a cabling job in a government building, our hero, the cabling installer, went about his work, completely unaware that some of the most mission-critical and secretive data in the world apparently was transmitted through the very cables he was working with.

Part of the job required him to access cables above a tile ceiling, which he had no trouble accomplishing because he had done it hundreds of times before. He also had no trouble tripping a silent alarm, unwittingly, while he was up there. Originally installed to guard against spies such as Ethan Hunt and James Bond, the alarm warned the armed soldiers on duty that an intruder had penetrated a section of the building. While those soldiers speedily headed toward the area where the alarm had been triggered, our cabling hero was installing a jack into a wall not far from the spot where he had accessed the ceiling.

His cabling project hit a "slight snag," as he describes it, when three soldiers told him to freeze. "I didn`t focus on the soldiers as much as I focused on the M-16s they were pointing at my head," he recalls.

After a thorough explanation and verification, then a good laugh, the installer got back to work. Although he says he still looks over his shoulder once in a while when he is installing jacks.

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