Has Anything Changed a Year After Sandy?

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    Seven Tips to Minimize Communications Downtime During Natural Disasters

    Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast of the United States a year ago this week. It’s a time to take a quick look backward to some pretty dire days and then look ahead to assess whether readiness has improved in the areas impacted by the storm.

    At a luncheon presentation at last week’s Cable-Tec Expo ’13 in Atlanta—a technical conference sponsored by The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE)—Time Warner Cable Chief Security Officer Brian Allen took a look back at how the operator handled the storm.

    The big lesson, according to Leslie Ellis’ report on the presentation at Multichannel News, is to create plans and put them in place ahead of time. Her story touches on the two big issues: fuel and power. The story concludes with Allen’s point that post mortems—figuring out what worked and what didn’t—are important.

    A big question is whether businesses see the storm as a once-in-a-lifetime event or something that is likely to happen again.

    Carbonite, a cloud services provider to small businesses and home offices, conducted a survey of small to midsized business owners in the tri-state (New York, Connecticut and New Jersey) area on natural disasters. The survey, which was conducted by Wakefield Research, found that more than 40 percent of respondents think it’s likely that a natural disaster will impact them during the next year. A scant 22 percent think that they are prepared.

    The press release for the survey, which quizzed 100 businesses with fewer than 100 employees in each of the three states, featured many interesting numbers. For instance, the average predicted period to recovery cited by respondents was 16 days. That totaled more than $47,000 in revenues. Both of those are astronomical, and perhaps fatal, figures for typical SMBs.

    The question of whether small businesses have learned their lesson is an interesting one. Pete Lamson, Carbonite’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, told me that the results of the survey showed the memories of small businesses receded with the waves.

    “What surprised us most is simply the fact that despite the tragedy of Sandy in people’s lives and business nothing has changed as related to small business preparation for next disaster. Forty-two percent of small businesses think they are likely to be impacted by a natural disaster in the next 12 months, but nearly half have no basic disaster preparedness plan in place, such as having an alternative place to work.”

    Many companies are taking steps. But some are, to an extent, kidding themselves. Lamson said that opting to back up to on-premise physical devices, such as external hard drives, is a half measure that should be bypassed. Such devices can fall prey to the same conditions that knock out the rest of the business.

    Online storage is inexpensive, simple, secure and readily available. Lamson suggests that the reason that this relative no-brainer is overlooked is that small business owners wear many hats and may simply assume that they are covered without thinking matters through too deeply. Lamson added that SMB inquiries peak just before and after an emergency. His conclusion is that small businesses are getting the message, albeit gradually. “We see at Carbonite that small business backup is the faster growing aspect of our business,” he said.

    It makes sense to see what people are thinking at the local level a year after Sandy., which covers the New York City suburb of Wayne, took a look at what went wrong during the storm and where work is being done. Since the storm, the story says that improvements have been made in the town’s communications and warning systems and that the school system has been included in the emergency services radio system. An advisory AM radio transmitter almost is ready. The story outlines other improvements that have been made.

    In terms of telecommunications, it is evident, as it always is after such events, that things must change. To at least some extent, that need is being addressed by the City of New York. About six weeks ago, an opening for a Senior Policy Analyst was advertised. The posting is interesting. It starts by suggesting that climate change “and the concomitant rise in sea levels” will make emergencies such as Sandy, and the related stress on the telecommunications network, more common in coastal regions. The goal is to get an advocate for change:

    The new office will develop a comprehensive understanding of the needs of telecommunications resiliency, and the legal, economic, operational and other obstacles to meeting those needs.  The office will develop and advocate for measures by which the telecommunications industry and regulators and legislatures at all levels can enhance telecommunications resiliency.

    Superstorm Sandy was a one in a million shot in terms of maximizing damage. But, unfortunately, we have no guarantee that one in a million shots won’t come through more than once.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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