They were trying to cause trouble Thursday afternoon in the room that will house hundreds of media members for the vice-presidential debate at Centre College in two weeks.
“This is great,” David Frey, the school’s assistant director of information technology, told assembled students, faculty and staff who came ready to make mayhem. “We actually have a problem right now.”
The team charged with readying the media hub in Sutcliffe Center — and the rest of the campus — to accommodate hoards of politicos and reporters invited people to try to “break the network.”
Frey and others said it was akin to a stress test for the system they have been working on for weeks. The roughly 150 people who attended were asked to call friends near and far on some of the more than 500 landline phones, to power on their wireless devices and plug in to Internet connections at each work station. The issue Frey referred to involved interference with outgoing calls on the phones, which technicians from Louisville-based Boise.net fixed almost immediately.
Art Moore, Centre’s longtime IT director, said a couple of other programming issues uncovered in the dry run can be remedied before the debate. Overall, Moore and others were pleased with how the test went.
“Every problem that was identified was fixable, and it’s better that we find those out today than two weeks from today,” said Shane Wilson, the school’s network services coordinator who has headed up much of the effort to put up two temporary, redundant networks. “This is what we needed. When you’re a technical person, you know how it’s supposed to work, but sometimes you miss the simplest things.”
It has been a hectic year as the team has worked to ensure the debate hall, media center and various other locations are equipped to deal with what is coming the week of Oct. 11. Wilson said employees from Boice.net have been on campus for more than a month working along with college staff and experts from other technology companies like Cisco Systems.
Moore said contracts are in place for all of the equipment needed for the debate, and logistics have been worked out, but much of the labor will begin next week when the hardware starts arriving to be assembled. The staff also has been busy arranging for phone and other services at auxillary sites around campus where television networks want to build sets.
It isn’t often that someone encourages you to come over and make a long distance call on their dime, but the technology crew asked those in attendance Thursday to reach out to anyone they knew overseas. While three of the participants in Thursday’s exercise walked away with gifts that included an Apple TV system, the phone call was the prize for many of the students who called hosts from past study-abroad experiences.
The chance was even more meaningful for senior Koen Hocker, a native of the Netherlands who came to Centre four years ago looking for a liberal arts experience in a place he knew little about.
Hocker was the last person manning a phone line after the rest of the crowd had dispersed. He said helping the school prepare for the debate was a nice bonus in addition to a free conversation with his sister.
Hocker will be one of many students forgoing their fall break to take part in the actual debate festivities.
“I don’t want to miss out on that,” he said.