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Winter Journal

Volume 31, Issue 4

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 When ABC's "Good Morning America" debuted in their new Times Square studio on September 13, one of the program's main features - a huge electronic billboard outside the studio - was nearly a no-show.

The benefits of computer technology are enormous, but high technology has made modern equipment more fragile and much more expensive. Microprocessor technology is on your desktop. But it is also the brains that regulate a building's heating and air conditioning system. It runs voice mail and operates phone switching systems. It turns gas pumps into high tech cash registers that offer pay-at-the-pump convenience.

Equipment exposures have changed considerably in recent years because the equipment itself has changed. The microprocessors and circuitry that control these modern devices are fragile and more susceptible to electrical injury, shock, vibration, and heat. Another factor that contributes to higher risk is the extent to which microprocessors are embedded in machinery and equipment.

How many professional sports teams do you see taking the field without any preparation? The most talented teams do not assume, "Hey, we've got the skills, practicing would be a waste of time." Different parts of a team need to practice working together, to improve performance, determine what works, and plan for the unexpected. Despite the fact that it can be time consuming and expensive (athletes aren't cheap), teams need to be prepared and well rehearsed before they are ready to play.

In the event of a systems failure, your business continuity plan requires flawless teamwork, and just like an athletic team, your business continuity team needs to practice. In the data systems business, we do not call it practice, we call it testing. You might have a top notch Business Continuity plan in place, with the top-notch personnel, but the whole reason you put this plan in place originally was to compensate for the unexpected. Why would you assume that in the event of a disaster, everything is going to go smoothly?

In the midst of a summer heat wave, Diane Wier tried to withdraw cash to pay for airline tickets to attend a friend's wedding. The needed cash never emerged, only the annoying message - "Temporarily Out of Service" - appeared on the screen. From his cottage in Haliberton, Ross Baker couldn't reach his colleagues in downtown Toronto to get an update on a medial research project and arrange weekend meetings. All he got was a fast busy signal. And Damon Heart was frustrated in his efforts to reach his broker to act on a 'hot' tip.

Clearly something was amiss in the Canadian Telecommunications system, one of the most advanced in the world. From Vancouver to Halifax, and as far south as Chicago selective telephone and data communications lines were out and over a million people were affected. Canadians were in the midst of one of the worst telecommunications failures in recent history. And this was only the first of a triad of failures to plague the telephone system during a week in July.

What went wrong? And why did the redundancies built into these critical systems not work? We know some of the answers, but not the whole story. Here's a brief synopsis.

After delivering only a glancing blow to Florida and Georgia, Hurricane Floyd slammed into North Carolina, causing that state's costliest natural disaster, and then moved up the East Coast, dumping heavy rain as it went.

Once deemed a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 miles per hour, Hurricane Floyd hit the Carolina coast on September 16 with winds of 115 miles per hour. The storm then proceeded through Virginia, New Jersey and parts of New York dumping up to 20 inches of rain on the region, causing "500-year" floods in some areas.

Altogether, Hurricane Floyd killed at least 69 people from the Bahamas to New England.

Hurricane Floyd was massive in size - at one point it covered more than 700 miles. After the storm passed through the Bahamas, it was feared it would head toward the Florida or Georgia coast, but these states felt little more than light rain and winds as the hurricane took a turn to the north.