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Volume 31, Issue 4

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No one knew on Saturday, August 22, 1992, that Hurricane Andrew would turn out to be the largest natural disaster in the nation’s history. No one could predict that it would supersede Hurricane Hugo as the costliest disaster ever and cause over five times the damage of that 1989 storm.

At the IBM Business Recovery Services (BRS) “war room” in Tampa, Florida, activity kicked into high gear that Saturday. As one of the primary large and mid-range systems backup hot sites, Tampa would serve as the focal point for all customer calls, alerts and disaster declarations. A duty team of highly skilled specialists in various technical disciplines toiled through the night making technical assessments, plotting the path of the storm, evaluating options and planning for the various scenarios that were likely to unfold.

Recovery center staff created maps listing the locations of all customers in the storm’s path. They made contact with local emergency management organizations.

Subscribers started calling to advise IBM of their status and intentions or to put us on alert. Equipment, particularly network gear, was checked and packaged for shipment. Communication links were check out to the eleven other IBM Area Recovery Centers. Finally, key IBM executives were contacted and informed of the situation and status. Having done all that could be done by way of preparation, the teams braced and awaited the storm.

While BRS teams toiled to assist Florida customers already in the throes of business recovery, the storm raged across the Gulf of Mexico and teams of experts in Texas and Louisiana were completing preparation and contact for customers in those areas. The two hurricane landfalls were two major disasters, separated by less than 48 hours.

When it was all over, there were an estimated 33 declarations in the industry. The 17 customers that IBM serviced were from Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Many major industries were affected including banking, health care, financial, wholesale, chemical, transportation, data processing and travel.

As power was restored, the recovered customers returned to their home sites, wiser for the experience and more resolute in their efforts to assure recoverability in the future. Beyond the sheer magnitude of Hurricane Andrew, the business recovery lessons learned did not reveal any surprises.

Non-subscribers still endeavored to avail themselves of recovery centers and services at the last minute and, unfortunately, had to be turned away. Some customers regretted not testing and updating their plans more frequently and returned home determined to exercise their plans more vigorously in the future. While none of these problems turned out to be show stoppers, they made some recovery efforts lengthier and more complex than necessary.

The same lessons apply: have a plan and exercise it regularly. Be confident that your hot site vendor has the skills, experience and depth of resources to assure that you can successfully recover.

Andrew won’t soon be forgotten. It has again reminded us how fragile humankind is in the face of nature’s wrath. Even with warning, little could have been done to reduce the devastation. It is likely that building codes in south Florida will become more stringent in the future and that measures will be taken to assure a complete social recovery as well as to minimize the impact of a reoccurrence.

Companies in affected areas will mimic these actions in an effort to strengthen their own business recovery posture. They will be better prepared in the future for having suffered through Andrew.

But somehow I can’t help but feel that some, particularly those in unaffected areas, will again ignore the lessons of a recent disaster and do nothing differently. And there remains that bothersome and nagging feeling that there are far worse disasters awaiting us out there, somewhere in the future.

John E. Nevola is manager of the Business Recovery Services Center at Integrated Systems Solutions Corporation (ISSC). He started his data processing career in 1965 as a network systems programmer with Bell Labs. He was named site manager of the Systems Support and Operations function at IBM’s Franklin Lakes facility in 1982. In 1989, he was assigned to his current position.

This article adapted from Vol. 5 #4.