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A shocker of a story!! #44786
11/11/04 11:16 AM
11/11/04 11:16 AM
SvenNYC  Offline OP
Joined: Aug 2002
Posts: 1,691
New York City
From the Thursday, Nov. 11 edition of the New York Daily News

How a guy's gizmo
spread fear at Fed


It nearly sparked a financial catastrophe.

An electrician's homemade gadget wreaked havoc on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, causing computer convulsions at a facility that houses the world's biggest cash vault, the Daily News has learned.

The foulup short-circuited the career of journeyman electrician John Cravetts, who was fired though he insists he meant no harm.

But it could have been much worse, according to papers filed in Manhattan Federal Court.

"The results could have been catastrophic," said Barry Schindler, an attorney for the New York Fed.

Fed officials say they might have had to shut down computers that process some $2.5 trillion in funds and securities payments and $4 billion in checks every day.

Fortunately, backup systems kicked in after the Nov. 17, 2002, incident.

The heavily guarded facility in East Rutherford, N.J., is also home to a vault that handles more than $1 billion in currency, coins and food coupons.

Cravetts, 62, was canned two weeks after the incident. A surveillance tape caught him using the crude device - two red wires strung between an ordinary household switch and plug. (bold type mine)

He later filed an age discrimination suit and also charged his firing was retaliation for reporting an electrocution hazard at the facility where he'd worked for almost 10 years.

Manhattan Federal judge Harold Baer tossed out Cravetts' claim this week.

"I had an unblemished record," Cravetts told The News yesterday.

"What I did was in good faith. I did not do anything malicious," added the licensed electrician, who has since found a new job. "What do they think I'm going to do, sabotage it?"

Although Fed attorneys presented a near-doomsday scenario in court filings, Fed spokesman Peter Bakstansky downplayed the incident yesterday.

"There was no point at which the operations of the Fed were in danger," Bakstansky said. "We stopped him. ... We have a lot of redundancy."

Cravetts had been asked to locate circuit breakers on the Fed computers that had not been properly labeled.

He used his gizmo to conduct the search, plugging it in and tripping breakers, knocking out power as he went along.

Cravetts told The News his superiors knew he used the device. He had made four of them at work.

Fed attorneys say he should have used a device that sends a harmless tone back to the breaker and doesn't cause disruptions.

Cravetts said that for more than a year, he had asked his bosses to order the manufactured device needed for the job, but they never did.

Originally published on November 11, 2004

The original article is at

Work Gear for Electricians and the Trades
Re: A shocker of a story!! #44787
11/11/04 11:39 AM
11/11/04 11:39 AM

That story hits a little close to home! At one time I ran electrical tenant finish in some hospital medical office buildings. We had very poor as built drawings to work from and one of my guy's thought it would be a "good idea" to take a piece of SO and put a male cord cap on one end and tie a switch between the hot and neutral on the other. Plug it in, flip the switch and trip the breaker.... He ended up tripping the GFI main to the building. Since he worked under me I caught %&(( for this! Although I did not know about it. ( He had a journeyman's licence.) NOT a good idea!
He did not loose his job but the general contractor thought it would be best not to have him work there anymore.

Re: A shocker of a story!! #44788
11/11/04 12:05 PM
11/11/04 12:05 PM
sparky66wv  Offline
Joined: Nov 2000
Posts: 2,236
West Virginia
Years ago, after having a 20A switch blow up in my face because I shorted out a 30A breaker, I quit using this technique (which I preferred over just sticking a wire into a receptacle) and bought a circuit tracer.

The switch had become weak with many uses, and it seemed like a "better idea" at the time...

The carpenter who replaced the 20A breaker with a 30A to keep his emglo compressor from shutting off on start-up, got the back of his hand slapped by me...

The guy was twice my size and thought my boldness was the funniest thing ever...

I guess I thought I was invincible back then...

Wow, live and learn...

Residential/Commercial Inspector
5 Star Inspections
Member IAEI
Re: A shocker of a story!! #44789
11/11/04 12:50 PM
11/11/04 12:50 PM
mamills  Offline
Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 745
Wharton, Texas, USA
I guess I don't live dangerously enough. The idea of deliberately faulting a circuit scares the &@#$$%#%^@#$ out of me, especially after seeing some of the pix that y'all have posted here at ECN.

I'll take a circuit tracer any day, thank you... [Linked Image]

Mike (mamills)

Re: A shocker of a story!! #44790
11/11/04 04:29 PM
11/11/04 04:29 PM
hbiss  Offline
Joined: Dec 2003
Posts: 886
Hawthorne, NY USA
Ha! I was wondering when someone was going to post that story.

I've seen guys do that, usually old timers and usually in desperation after searching for the breaker and giving up. Never seen a switch and plug setup though, they just short the wires together and pray it's not fed from a Federal breaker!

As to the story, well all I can say is this is what happens when idiot lawyers get involved. Everything gets blown out of proportion- "A surveillance tape caught him using the crude device...". Give me a break, like nobody knew he was working there and what he was doing right?

Give the guy a slap on the wrist and a new Ideal breaker finder set, geeze!


Re: A shocker of a story!! #44791
11/11/04 06:16 PM
11/11/04 06:16 PM
SvenNYC  Offline OP
Joined: Aug 2002
Posts: 1,691
New York City
hbiss wrote:

they just short the wires together and pray it's not fed from a Federal breaker!

Umm...I guess in this case it was a Federal breaker. [Linked Image] [Linked Image]

Re: A shocker of a story!! #44792
11/11/04 08:41 PM
11/11/04 08:41 PM
George Corron  Offline
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 717
Lorton, Va USA
Oh puhhhleeeze,
YEARS before they made circuit tracers, EVERY electrician carried one of these.

Ya GOTTA take the time to wrap that sucker in tape just in case [Linked Image]

One building I worked in, and enterprising building engineer had used a normal 120v outlet to feed some 277 volt convection units, then they took those out... I'm trying to find the circuit [Linked Image] It was the only time I actually saw the tape "bulge".... got hot too!!!!

When circuit tracers did come out, they were in the $6-700 neighborhood, most companies said the old "We've been getting by without those for years", so I had to go to work for myself to obtain my first one, haven't used a blow switch since..... well, not intentionally anyway.

What would they have done to this poor guy if he had shorted it by accident? Instead of firing the guy, they MAY wanna take a look at their coordination study, but I guess "Hey, it's been working fine for YEARS"

Re: A shocker of a story!! #44793
11/11/04 09:46 PM
11/11/04 09:46 PM
DougW  Offline
Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 1,143
North Chicago, IL
I remember working with a guy when we were going to pull some more wire into a conduit. After he loosened the outlet, I asked about killing the power to the circuit.

"Good idea" he replied, pulling out a screwdriver... then placing it against the "hot" terminals on the receptacle, he intentionally placed it to short to ground against the box.


"S'dead now" he replied, picking up the fish tape...

I like my Ideal break'r tracer...

Re: A shocker of a story!! #44794
11/12/04 01:29 AM
11/12/04 01:29 AM
e57  Offline
Joined: May 2003
Posts: 2,876
I learned a really good way to trace out breakers with-out a tracer very early on.

Use an Ammeter, and amp out all the breakers, and write down all the values. Then go plug in a 500 - 1000W flood light in it. Check again. (If it didn't trip already.) Big number change is your breaker.

That switch on a rope idea is flirting with disaster.

Mark Heller
"Well - I oughta....." -Jackie Gleason
Re: A shocker of a story!! #44795
11/12/04 06:06 AM
11/12/04 06:06 AM
Big Jim  Offline
Joined: Jul 2003
Posts: 394
Denver, CO USA
(rant on)
In standard fashion, the poor guy at the end of the line got screwed because because some high-paid manager wouldn't approve a "discressionary" expence for the right tool.
I hope the guy goes to the ACLU or something and really stirs up a stink. The low end tracers are so cheap now, they probably paid him more in wages to make his own tool than they would have to buy one.
(rant off)
BTW, I am a lower level manager in a government facility.

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