Making the Most of the Worst
New Breed of Intelligent Buildings Ease Disaster Management
By Koshi Okamoto
As the scope of corporate technology broadens with each passing minute, technological fitness could well become the corporate
buzzword for the twenty-first century. With the ongoing development of state-of-the-art communications networks, most companies
have become increasingly dependent on information systems to achieve successful business operations.
While advanced office technologies are certainly an invaluable ally in todays competitive markets, many businesses often assume that their office buildings can adequately protect these systems. However, when a disaster suddenly occurs, a buildings protection level is put through the ultimate test. As recent catastrophes have illustrated, office buildings often cease to function during a natural disaster or crisis, leaving information systems susceptible to extensive damage. When these systems break down, even the most technologically-fit company can instantly lose power and profits. These ramifications have brought the protection of information systems to the forefront of disaster prevention and management issues.
When Disaster Strikes
In the last six years alone, there have been nearly twenty identifiable events resulting in disruption of business operations. The extensive list of worldwide events which have placed businesses in jeopardy includes: the San Francisco and Los Angeles earthquakes, numerous power outages in New Jersey, the Chicago, Wall Street and Midwest floods; the Los Angeles riots; Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew and Iniki; the Oakland and Bankers Trust fires; the London Financial Center and World Trade Center bombings as well as multiple ice storms across 24 states.
After these catastrophic events, many companies learned that the road to recovery can be a long and difficult one. For example, the 1992 floods which plagued Chicagos business district forced hundreds of workers from their office buildings for days. Following the World Trade Center bombing, certain businesses relied on business interruption insurance to cover the losses and decided to suspend operations until the primary site was viable again. As these examples illustrate, businesses can suffer the repercussions of a disaster for months or even years. In fact, statistics indicate that 50% of businesses which sustain interruptions of a week or more due to problems at the primary site never recover.
The Need For
During the recovery process, many companies discover the hard-hitting effects of disasters on building infrastructures -- an experience which often prompts them to re-evaluate traditional views of office requirements. One of the most devastating consequences for a buildings infrastructure is the disruption of centralized equipment. If an infrastructure lacks the capabilities required to combat the effects of a destructive event, its vital systems are usually among the first casualties in a disaster. These vital systems, which consist of such essentials as electricity, heat, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), as well as water, telecommunication lines and emergency support, are at the core of a buildings operations and provide the sustenance needed to manage more sophisticated technical systems.
The disruption of a buildings vital systems will often have a domino-effect on the operation of telecommunications and computer networks. For example, with the myriad of mainframes, LAN and client-server systems, fax machines, voice and electronic-mail systems located in todays offices, the loss of electricity automatically leads to a major shutdown of primary information networks. Additionally, insufficient electrical power can silence such vital telecommunications vehicles as fax and electronic-mail transmissions, which depend on telephone lines. Because companies now operate primarily through high-tech data and telecommunications systems, they can no longer afford to be kept in the dark by extended power outages.
A disaster will often have the worst impact on a business finances. For example, property damages caused by the recent Los Angeles and San Francisco earthquakes were estimated to be in the billion-dollar range. Recent media reports also indicate that an estimated 25% of the companies stricken by the California earthquakes were forced to close their businesses. Following the World Trade Center bombing, corporate losses were at an upwards of $1.7 billion. In 1992, a LAN TIMES report noted that losses of computer equipment as a result of disaster or theft amounted to $1.3 billion in that year, not including the financial losses resulting from the inability to maintain business operations. As companies face these staggering losses, the seemingly unanswerable question which prevails is: Where do we go from here?
Long and Short-Term Fixes
In struggling to rebuild their enterprises, many companies learn that preparation is the best antidote. Following the World Trade Center bombing, certain businesses had second sites equipped to handle office needs. These firms swiftly resumed operations by transferring personnel to their back-up sites and thus, suffered minimal downtime and hardship during the recovery process.
Other companies turned to disaster recovery vendors who offer hotsite or coldsite plans. In a crisis situation, companies will commonly occupy a hotsite which is a designated office facility, complete with pre-positioned computers and telecommunication equipment. In the wake of the World Trade Center crisis, certain financial firms conducted business operations in hotsites. Although these sites are established fairly quickly, they are not designed for long-term occupancies. As a result, the costs for maintaining business operations at these facilities can be extremely high.
While coldsites are less expensive than hotsites, they do not offer pre-positioned computer or telecommunications hardware. Because time is needed to establish the appropriate information systems, companies will continue to lose valuable time and profits during the transitional phase.
With the advent of complex communications systems, many firms decided to develop sharing arrangements as a resourceful alternative to having back-up facilities. While this strategy may sound perfect in theory, it is less than ideal in practice. If two companies share the primary locale, they will also share the same troubles when a crisis emerges. Other problems include security, inadequate resources and having to adjust equipment usage to accommodate two business schedules. Even if firms can accommodate one anothers needs, shared arrangements leave little room for normal office operations and do not safeguard todays data centers.
In contrast to the limited benefits offered by hotsites and coldsites, a dedicated second site offers pre-positioned computer equipment fully compatible to todays emerging client-server environments. Personnel can also be regularly trained in the facility to ensure familiarity in case of an emergency. Dedicated second sites eliminate the threat of competition for time and space with other businesses. These benefits coupled with the ever-growing demands of todays data and telecommunications networks have paved the way for a new breed of intelligent buildings which can serve as both primary and contingency site locations.
Protection Through Intelligent Buildings
The seemingly unending deluge of hurricanes, explosions, fires and other crises has certainly proven that disasters do not strike a selected few. With this in mind, companies need office facilities which offer an added safety level for todays complex information systems. The solution? A facility whose construction is augmented by an intricate network of empowered technical support systems. In short, an advanced intelligent building.
While traditional infrastructures obtain their strength from a solid foundation, intelligent buildings gain unique inner strength from bullet-proof features specifically designed to meet the varied needs of todays information systems.
When dealing with unexpected crises, technologically-dependent businesses need to know that their office systems will not be caught in the crossfire. For this reason, intelligent buildings employ triple Disaster Avoidance Systems (DAS) covering power, telecommunications, life support (water and sanitation) and 24-hour security.
As part of the DAS system, primary and backup electrical lines are distributed throughout the facility. Intelligent buildings containing DAS systems can also adapt to a variety of occupancy needs. For example, these facilities can quickly and easily become primary sites for office operations, allowing that technological retrofits are negated by the initial infrastructure contingencies pre-planned in building design and construction.
Intelligent buildings can also serve as secondary locales by meeting the needs of key office operations. These include telecommunications operations and computer networking hubs for data handling and storage. Second sites also provide capabilities well-suited for todays LAN and client-server environments. In case of emergencies, these sites can be configured to handle distributed operations and back-up.
Telecommunications redundancies are a vital component among todays new breed of intelligent buildings. In 1992, the failure of AT&Ts SS7 long-distance service in New York triggered a sharp demand for contingency communications systems. Optimally, intelligent buildings should have the capabilities to access such varied telecommunications pathways as satellites, microwaves, fiber optic networks and ISDN.
Undeniably, an office can not function without electrical power. A continuous power source ensures that todays complex client-server systems, voice mail technologies, and other sophisticated systems will not be immobilized. Therefore, an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) with adequate back-up generator power is one of the primary elements for sustaining successful business operations.
Although some managers have installed UPS systems to support vital data networks, most buildings are retrofitted to accommodate these systems and other redundancies. Todays intelligent buildings are truly self-monitoring. Both vital and non-vital systems are linked to a specialized computer system which displays diagrams of these components and monitors their daily operation. In the event of a potential problem, an engineer either handles the situation from the computer or goes directly to the site.
In addition to redundancies and continuous power systems, a number of life safety systems are also needed to combat the effects of a disaster. An intelligent building should provide 24-hour security, fire protection systems, technical support and hardware maintenance -- elements which are essential to successful business operations. These features all work harmoniously to provide a safety barrier against the damages caused by exterior threats.
The arrival of advanced telecommunications and computer technology has brought a wealth of options to office operations. However, the evolution of corporate technology also brings the responsibility to protect these tools. In meeting this challenge, managers must ensure that information systems are housed by facilities which can provide adequate safety during a natural or man-made disaster.
Todays intelligent buildings provide built-in redundances for power and communications lines, adequate space, life-support systems, security and the emergency assistance needed to sustain continuous business operations. If companies are to become truly technologically-fit, investments in second sites or the location of primary work areas in advanced intelligent facilities provides a winning defensive strategy against the unexpected.
Koshi Okamoto is senior Vice President of Marketing and operations at Newport Financial Center, Jersey City, N.J.
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