Two Days in the Dark

clip_image002I’ll start by saying that, all things considered, we were very lucky last week. Although our little state endured the effects from an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week, most of the people I know are faring pretty well. The worst thing that happened was a sustained loss of power in the town where our office is located. We lost power early Sunday and it wasn’t restored until late Tuesday afternoon. Glastonbury, CT is on the east side of the Connecticut River, and their power grid is supplied by an extension cord running across the Rt-3 Bridge to an outlet near the McDonalds in Wethersfield, CT. We lose power all the time in Glastonbury, but never for this long.

I mention the earthquake, even though the effects were insignificant by east coast standards and, apparently, laughable by west coast standards, for two reasons. One, we aren’t used to earthquakes here in the northeast. Two, we are an insurance company, so earthquakes are something we take seriously. Along that same line, this isn’t hurricane country either – the last hurricane to make landfall in CT was Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Ironically, Gloria landed about a week after I opened my cabinet shop; the first of many bad signs for that business venture. The earthquake came as a surprise; the hurricane came with adequate warning, so in addition to be spared significant damage, we were about as prepared as you could be. Still, the prolonged power outage was a surprise and there are a few things we learned that others might find helpful.

Alternate Access – We have access to our incoming email, via a cloud-based archive, but there is a delay involved that renders email useless for rapid communication. We used a company contact feature on our public website to exchange personal email addresses, which did speed things up quite nicely. In the future, we will maintain those email addresses. Our public website has always been hosted off-site, specifically so we can communicate during a “building emergency.” The requests submitted via the “Contact Us” form go to a hosted email address, so the whole process is separate from our domain network and infrastructure. In retrospect, that seems to have been a good decision. We also maintain a conference calling and web meeting service in addition to the ones we manage on our own.

IM – Text messaging was the communication tool of choice for many people. Short messages are easy to handle, force you into being succinct and don’t use a lot of that precious commodity – cell phone battery life. In a serendipitous twist, we had just released an iPhone app that included personal cell phone numbers for most of our employees and the option to initiate an SMS message. We decided to store the data locally in this app, just in case travelling employees find themselves without access to our network. That decision also seems to have been validated this week.

Vendors You Can Rely Upon – I have written many blog entries where I espouse the concept of having a good relationship your critical vendors. We have a great relationship with our infrastructure vendor, and this was the kind of event where that pays off. I emailed my contact at 4:14 am on Tuesday, when I realized that the power might be out long enough to consider making alternate arrangements. By 6:03 am, I had a preliminary set of options to consider. By 7:28 am, arrangements were being made to acquire and pre-stage off-site backups so they could set up a remote office for us. A room had been set aside, computers had been tagged and people had been notified that we might be building a network Tuesday night. We ended-up not needing that option, but it was a huge relief knowing that it was available!

SharePoint Workspace – Suffice it to say, some of us will be taking a second look at this product in the near future. The idea of carrying critical SharePoint content around with me seems like it might be worth considering. If you’re thinking “I bet he wished he had moved to Office 365,” take a look at my thoughts from last year on cloud computing. Several things have changed since I wrote that post, but I’m still comfortable with my conclusion. Our Internet speeds are higher; our leverage with cloud vendors is the same or worse. I mention that last bit, because when Amazon’s cloud services were down for two days, I’m guessing that the little guys got a partial refund instead of an “all hands on deck” response.

We made it through two natural disasters in less than a week, and we are not really any worse for the experience. We have learned some lessons, and we have several things to attend to. Lessons learned; it’s more than a catchy buzz-phrase; it’s how you prepare for the next big event. Because the sidebar story will disappear with the next blog post, I’m including a shout-out to ADNET Technologies today. These guys are flat-out awesome!