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The weekend of September 11-12, 1999 in Florida saw beautiful, peaceful weather, but the minds of the people responsible for the protection of their respective businesses were churning like the winds of Hurricane Floyd then in the Atlantic. Floyd had made a slight turn northward and was heading straight for the Florida Gold Coast by way of the Bahamas.

Weighing the options and alternatives open to them, contingency planners and their bosses struggled with the decision to send their people to alternate locations to implement their disaster recovery plans. The same concern began to build among the population of the east coast of Florida as a land strike became probable. The only question was would Floyd turn north or smack into the coast. As with most Category 4 hurricanes, both the business and human dilemma began to unfold and were irrevocably intertwined.

The decisions made over that weekend and early Monday morning began to manifest themselves in the Emergency Operations Center at IBM Business Recovery Services in Sterling Forest, New York. The EOC had been on red alert since the early morning hours and was staffed and ready for the onslaught of expected requests for services. The industry calls them "declares" but in the context of a storm this size, they were more in the nature of an SOS.

As the residents of Florida boarded up their homes and stocked extra food and supplies, the "declares" started pouring into the EOC in Sterling Forest. By noon, nine customers had declared. The Miami Airport was closed at 3:30PM and along with the crowded roads heading west and north, egress from the area was extremely problematic.

Many of our clients shipped their tapes out earlier and made previous arrangements to have their systems restored by recovery center personnel. These clients had less difficulty than those who relied on their people to also relocate with the backup files.

By the end of the day, 31 customers from Florida had declared, with 62 configurations, and all of them were assigned a configuration consistent with their recovery requirements and a site in which to operate. This one day, September 13, 1999, contained more customer placements for Business Recovery Services than the total for Hurricane Georges.

At the end of the day, IBM Credit Corporation began shipping systems to various recovery centers around the United States in anticipation of further demand. This is part of the IBM Business Recovery Services contingency plan when extremely high demands are placed on recovery resources.

Tuesday may have been lighter in volume but heavier in complexity. As Floyd continued its northward turn, customers in northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina began to request services. Seven more clients declared for 14 more configurations including Call Center Support, AS/400 and Mainframe Systems. By the time it was over, Florida had 30 customers declare, South Carolina six and Georgia three, but it was far from over at the end of the day on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Floyd turned to the east and skirted the Atlantic coast along South Carolina. Landfall was predicted to be along the North Carolina coast later that day. The storm's winds had weakened somewhat while it picked up forward speed but it still carried a great deal of moisture and the rains were torrential. Three more customers declared for six more configurations. By this time customers from many different industries had declared, including Finance, Manufacturing, Travel and Transportation and Health care. Floyd proceeded to dump nearly 20 inches of rain on eastern North Carolina and continued heading north as a tropical storm, forcing two more customers to declare in North Carolina and Virginia.

Thursday saw the end of the hurricane force winds but just the beginning of the second shot from the double-barreled blast. As Floyd picked up speed and moisture off of the Atlantic, it dumped record amounts of rainfall on the New York metro area.

The strong winds and torrential rain caused widespread power outages, local flooding and closed roads all around the metropolitan area. New Jersey was particularly hard hit with flooding as the town of Bound Brook was devastated under 15 feet of water. Among the more catastrophic event was the flooding of the Rochelle Park (New Jersey) Bell Atlantic South, Point of Presence (POP). This major switching station is among the busiest in the state and the flooding shut it down, affecting AT&T Wireless Services, over one million telephone land lines and uncounted data lines from nearby businesses. This outage caused substantial business disruption in the area, causing many businesses to declare.

Friday dawned a brilliant sunny day in the northeast as the remnants of Floyd turned north and back into the Atlantic. However, the peaceful scene belied the turmoil and devastation Floyd left in its path. Thousands of workers from many companies were stranded at home without power and road closures and washouts continued to constrain movement on the highways. At that point, the POP was still not operational and the rumored estimates of a week to get it back on line were discouraging.

One company, Mercedes-Benz USA, suffered from both a power outage and a loss of telecommunications from the affected POP. Having had the foresight to develop and test a business recovery plan for both its computers and its Call Center, Mercedes declared and were taking calls from their customers within four hours. Mercedes remained at the Sterling Forest Recovery Center through the weekend.

"We have over a million vehicles in operation and our clients depend on our service to be available around the clock, so it is imperative that our 24-hour Client Assistance Center is accessible without interruption," said Gordon Michel, "disaster recovery coordinator, MBUSA, Inc. With our continuity plan, we were able to mitigate the damage from Hurricane Floyd and ensure that we were able to respond to virtually every customer who called, the circumstances notwithstanding."

Other companies affected by the devastation in the northeast also declared over the weekend and were serviced. In all, New Jersey spawned four more recovery efforts in the wake of the storm.

On September 20, the POP was back in service and both telephone and data service was fully restored. Mercedes returned to their home site shortly thereafter as did all of the other New Jersey companies who declared. The total for this event was 46 customers supported on 96 configurations in 11 recovery centers throughout the United States and Canada. There will never be enough praise or credit to the recovery center personnel, especially in the northeast, who worked tirelessly throughout the entire week to insure our customers were serviced and supported. Many people left flooded basements and powerless homes to report to work to do their jobs. It was a monumental effort of staggering proportions fueled by enormously talented people with a tremendous dedication to servicing our customers regardless of the personal sacrifice required. As I walked through the recovery center to thank these people, they simply said "This is what we do!"


John Nevola is Manager, Special Delivery - North America for IBM Business Continuity and Recovery Services.

This article Printed in Volume 13, Issue 1