IT managers say hurricane preparation paid off

US IT managers were relieved they had made preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Isabel, which hit the eastern states of the...

US IT managers were relieved they had made preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Isabel, which hit the eastern states of the country on Friday.

Ned Ingraham, senior IT manager at the District of Columbia's Emergency Management Agency, reported that electricity remained on and computer systems kept working throughout worst of the hurricane. 

Ingraham was forced to bring in additional laptops for members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who used his office as a command centre, but with the exception of a "few minor problems", things went smoothly. A geographic information system 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. 

Meanwhile, Martin Colburn, chief technology officer at the National Association of Securities Dealers in Rockville, said his IT systems, which support 5,300 brokerage firm members, were running on backup generator power and a skeleton crew.

"We got hit pretty hard. We've had flooding and significant power outages. But our administrative facility came up very clearly. We've not had any missed transactions," he said. 

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

Further north, Ralph DeSantis, a spokesman for the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Middletown, said backup power supplies for several network communications servers were on standby during the storm but were not needed. Extra staff were on duty in case of high winds and large rainfall amounts. "But the storm never got that severe," DeSantis said. 

Although there were worries about mobile communications, Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless said its Mobitex network was operating well, with just one site affected in Virginia. Some sites were also operating on battery backup in North Carolina and Virginia. 

In the Washington/Baltimore area, about 95% of Cingular's wireless sites are operational, with just 1% running on batteries or generator backup because of power outage. In the Philadelphia/Delaware area, all Cingular switches were fully operational. 

Verizon Communications also kept some 200 telecommunications switching stations and offices in the Virginia/Delaware area running. Spokesman Eric Rabe said no major circuits were knocked out by the storm.

Lucas Mearian writes for Computerworld

Read more on Business applications