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One Year After Hurricane Sandy - What We Learned and Changed

It's been just over a year since Hurricane Sandy rocked the east coast, displacing families and shuttering businesses. As the rebuilding continues, and historic landmarks like Ellis Island are able to reopen, we thought we'd take a few minutes to reflect on what we learned from the storm, what we've changed and what our clients are doing to be prepared in the event of a similar natural disaster.

Power, Water, and Fuel

Hurricane Sandy brought with it unprecedented flooding and power loss throughout New York and New Jersey.  Regrettably, along with many other service providers, two of the co-location datacenter facilities that we utilize in New York City suffered primary power failure.  A combination of severe flooding, extensive evacuation and limited movement of fuel into the city hampered the use of building back-up power.  Many ShoreTel Sky clients experienced service interruptions and/or degradation for a number of days.

Our engineers worked closely with our datacenter partners to restore all services as quickly as possible and our team provided customers with updates as often as meaningful information was available.  Still, we were not satisfied with our customers’ experience during the event.

A More Resilient Infrastructure

Prior to the storm, we were in the planning phase of implementing a redundant data center in another part of the country that could be used to minimize service disruption in this type of situation. Hurricane Sandy made it clear to us that we needed to accelerate that effort.  In early 2013, our co-location data center in Chicago became fully operational as a backup location.

Having this resilient infrastructure on standby and available in a different part of the country provides our clients stability and confidence in having minimal disruption in the face of severe events such as widespread blackouts, hurricanes, terrorism, and regional carrier outages.  The geographic redundancy components of the network include voice carriers, Internet service providers, ShoreTel Sky Call Conductor, ShoreTel Sky Contact Center, our system and application databases, access networks and other applications.

Business Continuity Awareness

We asked our customers what impact the storm had on their approach to business continuity and recovery planning.  It seems that the events of October 2012 were a good reminder to businesses across the country that is important to have plans clearly defined and frequently revisited.

“We already had a comprehensive DR plan in place,” said California Association of Health Facilities technology manager, Beth Camero.  “After Hurricane Sandy we did some role-playing to see if our DR solutions would work well during and after a hurricane. Not surprisingly, we found we were better prepared for the more probable flooding, fire and earthquake disasters that could happen here in California.”

Shane Hayes of Mascia Law Firm told us, “While Sandy may not have affected us directly here in Central Florida we have still used the lessons learned by those up north as the catalyst for an overhaul of our data backup plans. Ever since Sandy we have moved to a fully cloud based storage solution through a number of different providers and backup solutions. We use SpringCM to handle all of our client files, we use Google Apps for Business to handle all of our personal work files and we have a Dropbox backup that archives all of the above. Our move to ShoreTel was part of that backup plan. We wanted a cloud based non-premise system so that we could maintain operations regardless of the conditions or situation outside.”

James Mayfield, business analyst at Cascade Orthopedic Supply, agrees that cloud solutions are an important part of a business continuity strategy. “We have installed a generator to run when the power goes out and currently are switching over to Solar to get off grid.  Any solutions we can push to the cloud makes sense for us too. We outsourced our IT department and our servers are maintained off site.”

Unfortunately more hurricanes will inevitably impact families and businesses.  Even today, what many are calling one of the strongest storms ever is causing massive damage in the Philippines.  Many experts predict an increase in the frequency and severity of storms in the future. We encourage our customers to revisit their preparedness plans both at work and at home. The good news is that we've taken the lessons from last year and applied those to our people, processes and technology to deliver the highest level of service possible to our customers.

How did Hurricane Sandy change your approach to disaster planning?