Post-Isabel, IT managers say preparation paid off

FRAMINGHAM (09/19/2003) - Hurricane Isabel dissipated Friday, leaving behind at least 17 people dead and more than 4 million people without electricity. It also left in its wake a slew of IT managers grateful that the storm wasn't any worse.

In Washington, in an area hit hard by flooding, Ned Ingraham, senior IT manager at the District of Columbia's Emergency Management Agency, reported that electricity remained on and computer systems kept working in his bunker throughout the hurricane's worst blows yesterday.

Ingraham was forced to bring in additional laptops for members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who used his office as a command center, but with the exception of a "few minor problems," things went smoothly. In fact, Ingraham was particularly proud of a geographic information system that allowed IT personnel to plot the location of about 300 downed trees, broken power lines and power outages, which in turn allowed emergency workers to respond with greater efficiency.

"The Department of Transportation and Public Works used the maps to determine problem areas and used routing software to direct their vehicles," he said.

Ingraham said he was also glad he had performed a major test on the agency's emergency backup generator last week, which allowed him to call in technicians to connect several circuits that should have been on the power grid but weren't.

Meanwhile, Martin Colburn, chief technology officer at the National Association of Securities Dealers Inc. in Rockville, Md., said his IT systems, which support 5,300 brokerage firm members, were up and running on backup generator power and a skeleton crew this afternoon. "We got hit pretty hard. We've had flooding and significant power outages (in the area). But our administrative facility came up very clearly. We've not had any missed transactions," he said.

Colburn's advice for other IT managers: prepare, prepare, prepare. "We started preparing several days ago to ensure we had our business continuity plans in place," he said.

Farther north, Ralph DeSantis, a spokesman for the Three Mile Island Generating Station, the Exelon Corp.-owned nuclear plant in Middletown, Pa., said officials at the plant braced for the storm. Backup power supplies for several network communications servers were on standby during the storm but weren't needed. And extra staffers were brought in just in case of high winds and large rainfall amounts. "But the storm never got that severe," DeSantis said.

Although there were prestorm worries about mobile communications, Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless LLC said its Mobitex network was operating well Friday, with just one site affected in Virginia. Some sites are operating on battery backup in North Carolina and Virginia, however, the company said in a statement.

In the Washington/Baltimore area, about 95 percent of Cingular's wireless sites are operational, with just 1 percent running on batteries or generator backup due to the commercial power outage. In the Philadelphia/Delaware area, all Cingular switches were fully operational with no cell sites down.

Verizon Communications was also keeping some 200 telecommunications switching stations and offices in the Virginia/Delaware area up and running, according to Eric Rabe, a spokesman for the company. "As long as we keep the diesel fuel in generators filled, we'll be fine. We obviously know there's a lot of damage from the storm, and we will be surveying it ourselves and do what we can to restore that today," said Rabe.

He said no major circuits were knocked out by the storm, which was headed into Canada late Friday afternoon.

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