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What can be salvaged in natural disasters?

December 2012

 

Given that it is not realistic for most organizations to assume that their facilities are safe during natural disasters that are occurring with greater frequency and ferocity, it is critical that plans be made to salvage key computer files. If key data can be recovered after the disaster, it is more likely that the organization can survive.

Cloud based backup for enterprises and schools

The advent of virtualization, where many files can be stored on powerful servers, and cloud-based storage has made backing up data at geographically dispersed sites affordable for small and medium size organizations.

Cloud services take advantage of economies of scale by enabling many organizations to share servers at large data centers and access their files via the Internet. Mozy.com and Amazon are just two of the many organizations offering cloud-based backup.

Mobile access to files during weather emergencies

Mobile access to data is attractive because it is more likely that mobile service rather wired broadband will be available during not quite so dire conditions such as storms that knock out power or instances where outside cabling to the public network is cut.

Cellular modems

Using a cellular modem integrated into routers is an option for organizations that want a low-cost back-up plan in the event that their wired broadband is not available. This is feasible in areas where 4th generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile service is available.

While LTE does not have as much capacity as wired broadband, it is adequate for limited service for key applications or staff during outages. Thus, cellular modems installed in the organization’s router can be used to access remote files and email.

The backup decision

Telephone companies and mobile carriers as well as commercial organizations are faced with the dilemma of how much money to invest in back-up systems to protect their network during natural disasters such as hurricanes. These back-up systems don’t add revenue, as do investments in new technologies that enable new features. No organization likes to use valuable resources on technologies that don’t improve the bottom line.

Vulnerabilities during Sandy Flooding & high winds

Network equipment located in the basement is vulnerable to flooding. This happened to Verizon’s switching and network equipment located in their facility adjacent to the World Trade Center, despite precautions Verizon had taken to prevent flooding. Many other telephone companies in the same area of lower Manhattan lost equipment damaged by flooding, which led to widespread outages.

Repairing cell sites was a challenge because high winds knocked down trees as well as towers, blocking roads for repair trucks trying to reach cell towers in these areas.

Power losses 

Power losses were the largest challenge during Hurricane Sandy. Cell sites with generators had enough gas for only 8 to 12 hours. To add to the problem, supplying additional fuel to the generators was difficult because New York and New Jersey were hit by gas shortages. Even more problematic is the fact that not all mobile networks had back-up generators at their cell sites.

The FCC’s steps

The federal government has an interest in sustainable networks to assure access to 911. They also see reliable infrastructure as critical to communications in the event of a terrorist attack. In April 2011, The FCC began an inquiry into the public networks’ reliability. One concern is that back-up generators only operate for up to 12 hours. Another is that not all cell sites have power backup. 

 

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