Mobility’s Role in Disaster Recovery: How to Plan for a Power Outage

As we move forward into Hurricane Season, it is important to take a look back at lessons learned from previous storms to prepare ourselves for what the weather might bring. Weather and natural disasters seem to be an ongoing occurrence, often with tragic results. When a monumental storm like Super Storm Sandy hammers the coastline—with 11-foot tidal waves hitting at high tide and 80 mile per hour winds—some might say there’s not much you can do to prepare. The same may be said when a tornado with 200 mile per hour winds strikes a town in Oklahoma, or strong winds fuel an out of control wildfire in California.

In fact, at least from an information technology stand point, the main lesson from these storms is that mobility is essential, and preparing for a mobile response is imperative.

In any kind of natural disaster, we know that power supplies will be cut off, and that neighborhoods will go dark. Back-up generators may or may not prove to be useful. In the case of New York City and Super Storm Sandy, large numbers of buildings with back-up generators found them inoperable because they were typically located in the basement and quickly stalled out in the flood waters. Cell phone towers, meanwhile, which are key elements in virtually any disaster recovery scenario, also lost power. And with the flooding of the subways—which in lower Manhattan were inundated with three miles of water from floor to ceiling—the city hit the trifecta of roadblocks to recovery: no power, no communications, and no transportation.

With the Oklahoma tornadoes, maneuvering through devastated neighborhoods where cell towers were blown apart was equally as challenging. And wildfires take down power lines and block roads across large swaths of land.

The result is that recovery teams can’t get around and can’t communicate with each other. This was especially true in New York following Hurricane Sandy.  Mobility, the best hope for quickly getting services back online, came to a stand-still. Yet, any disaster preparedness team can take some fairly straight forward steps that might lessen the impact of a natural disaster. Here are a few:

1. Charge Up- In today’s connected world, mobile devices are everywhere. Batteries only last so long. Communities should consider investing in mobile charging stations that can run off of portable generators and allow recovery teams on a priority basis to recharge their devices. Buildings that do have back-up power should make it available to citizens as needed (and many did in the aftermath of Sandy). Before a natural disaster strikes, keep your mobile devices fully charged and know ahead of time which buildings have back-up generators.

2. Team Up- During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, in absence of street lights, subways, and consistent power, a lot of work is done on foot. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, workers could not get into the city. Everything had to be done remotely, working with a tactical team to get the city up and running. In a coordinated effort, workers took a SWAT team approach, huddling every morning and every night to get everyone back on their feet.

3. Speak Up- Now that the power is on and the team is assembled, the next step is communication. Through sites like DropBox and SharePoint (which can be accessed on mobile devices through NetApp Connect), teams can share what information they have to make sure everyone is on the same page, working towards the same goal, and moving forward in the process of disaster recovery.

If you do not have a critical list of necessary steps in case of an emergency, you need a set action plan in place. Planning ahead allows for minimal services to be maintained with critical time being spent on the next step of getting everything up, running, and mobile.

Doug Ross, District Manager, SLED North, NetApp U.S. Public Sector