IT managers keep systems running despite Isabel's fury

FRAMINGHAM (09/19/2003) - Information technology managers in the mid-Atlantic region this week double-checked telecommunications lines and activated their disaster recovery plans in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Isabel. And for users like Martin Colburn, the effort paid off.

Colburn, chief technology officer at the National Association of Securities Dealers Inc., said the area around its headquarters in Rockville, Md., was hit hard by the hurricane. But he added that the systems in NASD's data center continued running smoothly on backup generator power.

"We've had flooding and significant power outages," Colburn said. "But we've not had any missed transactions."

Colburn's advice for other IT managers facing similar disasters is, Be prepared. "We started preparing several days ago to ensure that we had our business continuity plans in place," he said, one day after Isabel stormed its way into North Carolina on Sept. 18 and then swept inland through Maryland and other states.

The hurricane packed heavy rains and wind gusts that topped 100 miles per hour. Seventeen deaths had been attributed to it as of Friday afternoon, and government officials said Isabel left more than 4 million customers in seven states without electricity.

Despite the power outages, Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless LLC said in a statement that all of its network switches in affected areas were fully operational. The company added that only "a very limited number" of its cellular antenna sites were out of service.

Cingular activated its emergency plan on Sept. 15. Network operations and support personnel were put on standby to respond to problems. Cingular said it also filled the fuel tanks on all its generators and assembled hundreds of additional backup devices in case they were needed.

Similarly, New York-based Verizon Communications put an internal command-and-control plan into effect prior to Isabel's arrival. "We're checking and double-checking communications links," said John Griffin, vice president of business continuity and emergency preparedness at Verizon. "When the event occurs, we have to already know who's going to do what."

Mark Pennington, information systems director at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management in Richmond, said he reviewed its business continuity plans before the storm to ensure that they were up to date. Pennington said he also replicated all of the agency's server data to backup sites "so if we do get hit hard, at least our information is moved off-site."

The systems at the District of Columbia Emergency Management Agency in Washington remained operational throughout the hurricane, said senior IT manager Ned Ingraham. But Ingraham added that he was glad he did a major test of the agency's emergency generator a week before Isabel struck. The test showed that several electrical circuits weren't connected to the generator -- a problem that Ingraham was able to correct in time for the storm.

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