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[ISN] IT managers brace for Isabel


Story by Lucas Mearian 
SEPTEMBER 17, 2003 

IT managers along the mid-Atlantic coast are busy double-checking
telecommunication lines and reviewing disaster recovery plans in
preparation for Hurricane Isabel, which could cause billions of
dollars in damage depending on where it hits tomorrow. Most in danger
are telecommunications and other technology infrastructures in both
the private and government sectors.

The U.S. Census Bureau this week calculated that nearly 50 million
people could be affected by the hurricane when it comes ashore. As of
late today, the National Hurricane Center was expecting landfall along
the North Carolina coast, with strong winds, heavy rain and flooding
expected as far north as New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Mark Pennington, information systems director for the Virginia
Department of Emergency Management in Richmond, said telecommunication
lines are of particular concern for state and private entities because
a wet summer has left many trees susceptible to strong winds. "It
doesn't take much to put a single node out of business. There's a
large amount of concern with trees still in soggy ground, and with
high winds coming in, we're worried about them doing damage to telecom
lines," he said.

Pennington said he's reviewing his agency's business recovery plans to
ensure they're up to date, and he has replicated all servers to hot
sites "so if we do get hit hard, at least our information is moved
off-site." He has also checked backup generators to ensure that
they're running and fuel tanks are full.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the state's
counterpart to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also began
archiving disk hard drives as well as tapes in its underground bunker
operations center for disaster recovery purposes, Pennington said. "We
ended up with servers with hot-swappable SCSI drives, and it occurred
to us that it would be a pretty decent way to back up data. It's a lot
easier to restore from disk than tape backup. And with the SCSI drive,
we can pretty much plug it in and go."

But for keeping operations running during a disaster, Pennington and
others say low tech may be key. For example, he's stocked up on boxes
of pencils and legal pads.

John Griffin, vice president for business continuity and emergency
preparedness at Verizon Communications, said that among the top tips
the company is offering customers is not to rely on cordless phones
for communications during the hurricane but instead to distribute
phones that can work during a power outage. He also pointed out that
laptop computers will also be able to function over Digital Subscriber
Line and dial-up lines during an outage.

Griffin said there are more than 300 telecommunications switching
stations in the path of Hurricane Isabel, an area that he's assuming
will lose power.

This morning, Verizon activated its internal command and control
infrastructure plan, which places staff on alert in corporate,
business unit and regional control centers for monitoring and
responding to any emergencies. "We're checking and double-checking
communications links. There's a lot of preparation for event
management and recovery," Griffin said. "When the event occurs, we
have to already know who's going to do what, and how you'll monitor

Verizon's corporate center is located in New York, but it has
corporate backup facilities in Texas as well as state and regional
redundant backup centers in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania,
Griffin said.

Earlier this month, New York-based American International Group Inc.  
(AIG) announced the opening of a new 200,000-square-foot data center
facility in Fort Worth, Texas, which will provide business continuity
and disaster recovery capabilities to AIG member companies. The
centers have 150TB of storage capacity and asynchronously mirror all
changes to production data.

Mark Popolano, CIO at AIG, said the hurricane may offer the first
real-world test for restoring data to the company's New Jersey data
center from the backup site in Texas.

"In the event of an emergency, we can flip our centers over and bring
up our applications in the second facility," he said. "We also have
people identified that in worst-case scenarios can be put up in
hotels. But we have people both in Fort Worth as well as in New Jersey
that can respond to these emergencies."

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