Lessons in the Storm: Disaster Recovery
In the wake of hurricane Sandy, the Eastern Seaboard’s tech sector has begun a return to normalcy. Not only did it fare in many cases better than expected but thanks to social media, relief efforts were bolstered and more volunteers mobilized than in other recent disasters. Lessons emerged as well, ways to improve response and more effectively guard against the unexpected.
One Tough Apple
A recent New Tech City blog discusses how New York’s tech sector coped with Sandy and spoke to the city’s Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Haot. What she heard from the majority of businesses asked was that although they’d suffered with flooding and power outages they found workarounds, ways to set up shop remotely and continue with business as (relatively) normal.
Hoat said many companies weren’t looking for help from the city, instead saying “what can we do to help, how can we volunteer, and how can we give back?” Going forward, Hoat says she is looking at ways to make the city’s technology infrastructure more reliable by creating multiple redundancies, improving data recovery and ensuring data centers don’t go dark.
New York’s lesson is a confirmation of cloud and virtual server benefits – under duress, these technologies shine as ways to keep companies and cities up and running, enabling them to offer rather than plead for help. This isn’t to say the cloud is impervious to disasters; every server still requires power (as Amazon famously learned this summer), but improvements to infrastructure have direct disaster benefits.
Harder lessons were learned as well. A November 5th, 2012 article at the San Francisco Chronicle discusses issues brought to light for tech companies by hurricane Sandy, most notably in the area of social media.
Article author Dan Porter talks about his attempts to volunteer during the disaster, predominately using Twitter to find out where he and his wife could donate goods and what was needed. The problem? That Twitter feeds were updated only sporadically and with conflicting information. As a result, lines to donate goods were long and in some cases donation centers received too many of specific item types.
He found several well-run volunteer stations, most notably one in a library where librarians had organized and categorized donations, making both the giving and sorting process simple and efficient. Porter suggests a number of ways to translate this efficiency into a technology format including the development of real-time volunteer management apps, supply chain analysis and direct donating platforms so givers know their donations are going to those most in need and aren’t going to waste.
Cloud technology offers ways for businesses to sidestep many communication issues brought on by natural disasters and also suggests a way to improve relief efforts. By using existing social infrastructure, cloud networks and developer talent, aid could be rendered more quickly and supplies collected without excess.
Catastrophes like Sandy offer a litmus test for technology preparedness. While the East Coast tech sector fared well overall, the hurricane’s aftermath offers new ways for companies to leverage technology and improve civilian recovery efforts.
This article was written by Douglas Bonderud, a freelance writer, cloud proponent and business technology analyst.