In the Wake of Disaster

Nov 6, 2012

CHICAGO, Ill. — According to Gene Gander, Vice President Business Development — Americas for CargoWise®, Hurricane Sandy, which recently hit the northeast coast of the U.S., has served to highlight the fact that disaster mitigation is not a question of if, but when.

“At least this time around we knew it was coming,” says Gander. “As soon as tropical storm Sandy began its destructive journey through the Caribbean, meteorologists could see that the wild winds would become trapped against the U.S. shoreline, and ultimately be sucked inland by the wintery weather to create a massive storm which spread across 20 states.

“In some states the actual storm produced little more than some extra wind and rain, but it had a totally disproportionate impact on business because of the interrelatedness of the corporate sector. It’s not uncommon these days for a company in one state to rely on services provided in real time from a service provider on the other side of the country. As a result, businesses all over the U.S. were affected when data centers in places like New York and New Jersey were brought down by the weather, or went off line when the power went down.”

Gander points out that the capacity to predict weather events has no doubt saved hundreds, and possibly, in this case, thousands of lives, and given the people and businesses which found themselves in the path of the storm a chance to make alternative arrangements; and the chance to survive the violent storm and its aftermath. However, he says, not all freak events can be predicted or tracked in the way that was done with Hurricane Sandy, and sometimes, even though we know they’re coming, the amount of damage they cause can catch us by surprise.

Even when you know a natural disaster is on its way it is still impossible to determine exactly what the impact will be. In New York for example, areas north of 42nd Street were left relatively untouched and water and electricity were maintained, while south of 42nd Street was in darkness, impacting business partners and customers all over the world.

“Ultimately,” he says, “what Hurricane Sandy served to demonstrate is that to avoid the impact of severe weather events you need to do more than know they are coming; you need to assume that at some stage they’ll hit. In the last few years there have been a number of natural disasters that have caught many off-guard, taking a terrible toll on human lives, and costing the global economy billions as it tries to recover from sudden shocks.”

The best preparation for natural disasters, involves not just moving out of the path of the storm, Gander says, but requires the creation of systems with multiple failovers that make it possible to keep on going even though communications systems and power systems fail. The need for such systems was underlined in 2011, which saw the global supply chain impacted by an unprecedented series of natural disasters. That year opened with floods in Australia, a tragic earthquake in Christchurch in New Zealand, and then a catastrophic earthquake hit Tohoku in Japan in March, effectively severing many of the world’s industrial supply chains. Then there were monsoonal floods in Thailand in July which cost $40 billion, the most expensive disaster in the country's history. As the year wore on there were tornados in Alabama in the U.S. and another earthquake in Turkey.

“What these events teach us is that natural disasters hit without warning. This is even more important given increasingly strong consensus that the frequency and severity of these natural disasters will trend upwards with the changing global climate,” he points out.

“Experiences like these really tell us that disaster recovery planning requires a global strategy, one which will see precious company information backed up not simply to one data center, or even two in a similar area, but multiple data centers in geographically separate locations.”

Gander summarizes that this decentralized approach to disaster recovery means that corporate IT systems should be able to keep functioning regardless of what happens to a particular office, server or data center. Real disaster recovery means preparing for a freak event as if they are inevitable, rather than responding to a crisis when it is on its way.

“If any good comes of Sandy, it will be that it serves to illustrate that global disasters are unavoidable, and that disaster recovery needs to be thought of as part of a normal business plan. Far from unusual, disasters are part of business, so ultimately the message is: disaster is only disaster when it is not expected. Expect it to occur, and prepare for the expected — then your business continuity will always be ensured.”

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