When I first began reporting on companies that specialize in installing and maintaining building control systems, I remember a line one contractor said to me. He said he could control the indoor temps of a customer’s building in Pittsburgh while driving around in his truck on the back roads of Texas. That little tidbit has always stuck with me. I was amazed that technology had advanced that far.

To think that some signal from a laptop in the front seat of a moving vehicle (or better yet, a stationary vehicle) could be bouncing off of some satellite miles above the Earth and coming back to some control box in the maintenance office of some high-rise building 1,200 miles away via an Internet portal is simply amazing.

It makes my mind wander to what could happen if this “signal” got in the hands of the wrong people — terrorists.

In the future, an uncomfortable building environment could join the list of acts of domestic terrorism.

Before I go any further, let me state that uncomfortable buildings are commonplace — but uncomfortable buildings by acts of espionage are not.

A Wild Imagination

Here’s a fictional glimpse of the future. A mechanical contractor is on his way home from his office in a Dallas suburb. He has been notified by dispatch that there is a problem with the air conditioning in the Pittsburgh office of one of his company’s national accounts.

“No problem,” he says. “I’ll get the readings over the Net and make the proper adjustments.”

Using his wireless Internet device, he logs on to a special company website which links to his customer’s control system. He notices that the building indoor temps are erratic — some are as high as 80¿F and others as low as 60¿.

He automatically dials down the hot portions and dials up the cool portions of the building.

The problem is, while the contractor is stopped and his truck is in park (no driving when talking on the phone or adjusting building controls), a stranger walks up and taps on the glass. He is holding a gun, which strangely resembles an infrared temperature-sensing device. He demands that the contractor hand over the wireless device, without logging off.

“Give me the device or I’ll laser, I mean, shoot you in the…” You get the picture.

He explains that his company is involved in a hostile takeover of the Pittsburgh company whose building temps are controlled by the wireless device.

“I will make them so uncomfortable that they will submit to our takeover plans,” he screams.

As the terrorist screams, a loud horn wakes the contractor from his nap. The engine of his truck is still running and the wireless is still logged into his customer’s facility.

“Hmmm,” he ponders. “Must have fallen asleep. Luckily my customer’s building is back to normal. Sure glad I pulled over.”

Sure glad it was only a dream.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); halljr@bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 08/27/2001