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Hurricane Hits New Jersey!

by Hu Yoshida on May 8, 2008

I was invited to participate in the New Jersey Digital Government Summit in Trenton, New Jersey, on May 8.  One of the most interesting sessions was titled: Situation Room: Hurricane hits New Jersey! This was chaired by Jack Mortimer of Government Technology magazine, and participants were Gloria Broeker, Statewide Disaster Recovery Planning Officer for IT, State of New Jersey and Craig Fugate, Director of Emergency Management, State of Florida. This session was modeled on the concept of the White House Situation Room, and took the audience through a simulation of a category 4-5 hurricane approaching and finally hitting New Jersey. Jack did an excellent job, taking the audience through the different stages approaching the landfall, posing questions to the audience which consisted of New Jerseys IT organizations, and engaging Gloria and Craig as the panel of experts.

Craig, being from Florida, had a great deal of experience with hurricanes and gave first hand accounts of what needs to be done going up to, through the event, and cleaning up afterwards. Gloria, who has responsibility for Disaster Recover for the IT systems in New Jersey, talked about her planning efforts for disasters in general.

A category 4-5 hurricane has not hit New Jersey but that is not to say it won’t happen. Jack quoted a forecast by Klotzbach and Gray which predicts that the chances of a major hurricane hitting New York and Long Island have increased to 24% in 2008 from an average of 16%. The chances of a hurricane category 3-4-5 hitting the East Coast of the US has increased to 45% in 2008 from an average of 31% due to warming water temperatures and other climatic factors. These probabilities were not available for New Jersey, but they are right next door to New York.

There were many new things that came out of this session.

While data centers in this area have diesel generators to maintain power during a disaster, many are not prepared for the loss of water for the chillers. When a hurricane comes through and rips up the trees it also rips up the water mains that are tangled in the roots of the trees. In California, I would assume that we would have a similar exposure in earthquakes. We need to store water as well as diesel fuel for the generators.

When a wide scale disaster hits, the first priority of the State is not to recover the servers and storage and get the IT up and running. The first priority is to establish communications which usually means satellites since cell towers and land lines will be destroyed. When Katrina hit there was no communication to the area until television crews were able to get in almost 48 hours after. Second priority is to establish security so that desperate people aren’t stopping rescue and recovery efforts. The next priority is to rescue and recover the people. After that you recover your IT. 

In the planning process before the disaster hits, determine who will pay. No one has adequately budgeted for this, but you do not want to be caught in a paralysis trying to make this decision when a hurricane is barreling down at you at 50 miles per hour.

When such a disaster strikes it affects everyone at the same time in a wide area. If you out source to a DR Service realize that they will be swamped. Who will they service first? Even if you are outside of the immediate area, your power grid may be out and diesel for your generators may not be available for 48 hours or more. Make sure your vendors and suppliers are alerted to your impending need for support.  

Build recovery teams to respond to problems you never imagined. Craig talked about the need for being “super Gumby”, be extremely flexible.  “Have a plan but realize that disasters never go according to plan. If everything goes according to plan it is an exercise” 

We all left that session with a heighten awareness and appreciation for disaster preparedness.  One of the last questions asked was how many in the audience had a disaster preparedness plan for their family. Unfortunately, this response was much lower that the response for disaster preparedness for work.

Craig has a website disatersrus.org which offers plans, alerts, and links to international sites with similar news and information about disaster preparedness.          

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Comments (1)

DanQ on 14 May 2008 at 10:56 am

Hu, you need better support mechanisms.

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