As a New Englander by birth, I’ve seen a lot of big ocean storms up close. My childhood home was yards from the Atlantic Ocean when the Blizzard of ’78 paralyzed the Northeast. I was an intern for the Boston Globe in 1992 for the “Perfect Storm,” which devastated the coast. And I lived through what was comparably a mild Hurricane Irene that passed through the Tri-State area last year.
Hurricane Sandy was no joke. The New Jersey shore is decimated. New York City is out of commission after flood waters surged through the tunnels and subways. And Long Island, home of The 2112 Group and Channelnomics, looks like a war zone with downed trees tearing through power lines, blocking roadways and crashing through homes.
Power is out for at least another week. It will take weeks more before things return to normal, as parts of Long Island are literally wiped away.
Two days after the storm hit, cell phone service is intermittent. Many cell towers are without power or damaged. Remaining operational towers are straining to pass overloading traffic.
When my father finally got a call through from Massachusetts, he asked if Hurricane Sandy reminded me of the Blizzard of ’78, which forced my family to evacuate from our beach-side home for 10 days and left us without power for nearly a month. The broken trees, down power lines and widespread infrastructure damage were vaguely familiar. The difference: the dependence on infrastructure and the lack of analog systems.
In the 1970s, we didn’t have the Internet, computers, smartphones or cable. People drove to work; very few worked from home. Telephone communications were more reliable since the wire-line network operated on low-voltage cables that were more resilient than the power lines. And even if power was lost, communication flowed over transistor radios.
In my search for a place to get back to work, I kept hearing the same two questions, “Do you have power and Internet?” That’s really the defining difference between this and the storms of yesteryear. Our reliance on electronics, information systems and all-things digital become vividly apparent in natural disasters such as Sandy.
Here are a few observations about our reliance on electronics and faulty reliance in the digital age.
- The Value of Backup and Collaboration Services: Thank goodness for the cloud. Not only is all our data backed up there, but it’s fully accessible to all team members. Backup vendors and their solution providers will be having a lot of interesting conversations about their ability to maintain near-normal business operations.
- Limitations of Telecommuting: Businesses are embracing the concept of telecommuting, remote workers and distributed workforces. Employees working from home saves money because they don’t take up expensive real estate. But just because employees are remote doesn’t mean they’re accessible. People across New Jersey and New York are discovering they can’t simply remote into the office if the power and Internet services are disabled.
- No Returning to Analog: The downside to winning the war against tobacco is that we also eliminated matches. People were scurrying to find butane lighters as the once-ubiquitous softback matchbooks have all but disappeared from the landscape. Also gone are transistor radios, landline phones and typewriters. The upside of the digital age is the high level of automation. The downside, of course, is the elimination of analog systems. When the power goes out, there’s no Plan B.
- End of E-mail Servers: I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard from who say they’re getting no e-mail. Their on-prem e-mail servers are housed in dark office towers in lower Manhattan. Even if the lights come on, it will take time for IT admins to make their way to the stricken island to reset these servers. Hosted and cloud e-mail services will have a much more evident value proposition following Hurricane Sandy.
- The Need to Drill on Disaster Recovery: An often overlooked/dismissed part of backup and disaster recovery planning is drills. Businesses don’t take the time to conduct table-top or full disaster recovery exercises. Flaws and shortcomings are only discovered by conducting full walk-throughs. Planning, facilitating drills and auditing disaster recovery plans is a valuable professional service in which the channel will see a spike in demand following this event.
- Safety First: During the first hours of Hurricane Sandy, I e-mailed the 2112 team a simple piece of advice: “When in doubt: Stop, drop and roll. Unless you’re in water, then don’t.” In the early hours, the storm seemed like just another big windstorm. It wasn’t until Day 2 that we saw the full extent of the damage. Businesses need to establish clear lines of communications to ensure all staff is contacted and accounted for.
- Instill Teamwork Into Your Culture: When the lights went out on the East Coast, the 2112’s team members in the Midwest and West Coast jumped into action and compensated. As each 2112 staffer came back on line in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York, they immediately jumped into returning to near-normal operations. Not everyone feels this level of dedication to their companies or camaraderie with their fellow team members. I’m fortunate to have such a dedicated team; it’s something every company should strive to instill and reward in their staff.
Many more lessons will emerge from Hurricane Sandy. These are just a few initial thoughts as I try to get the temporary 2112 HQ operational. There’s much more to come.
On a personal note, thank you to Ginger Stevenson, our vice president of marketing, and Stefanie Hoffman, Channelnomics’ West Coast editor, for keeping the machines running while the East Coast was offline.
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