Lessons Learned From the Mother of All Storms

Anthony Malakian, US Editor, WatersTechnology

Despite being devastating, Hurricane Sandy provided a valuable opportunity for firms to test their BCP contingencies. Did your firm pass or fail?

When President Barack Obama made the decision to send troops in to "neutralize" Osama bin Laden, the US Navy's elite Seal Team 6 unit began preparing for the assault. After an initial rehearsal at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, they went into the hills of Nevada for a second rehearsal in order to better simulate the rugged environment of Pakistan's Abbottabad region.

For this next test, rather than using a compound with stone walls, they used a chain-linked fence, according to Mark Bowden, who wrote about the mission for Vanity Fair. As is now well known, during the actual assault on bin Laden's compound, one of the helicopters crashed, although no one was injured. The reason for the crash was that, according to Bowden, "the air beneath the Black Hawk [helicopter] was warmer and less dense than anticipated," because the compound was encased in stone, and not the chain-link fence like in the Nevada trial

Best Prepared
This goes to show that even with the best prepared specialists, there are things that can and do go wrong when under live fire. But even when things go wrong, with the right preparation and expertise, those mistakes can be accounted for to make for a successful mission. For Seal Team 6, no one was killed in action and the unit got their man.

Obviously, the world of financial IT is far removed from the realm of military action, even though capital markets firms in the Northeast US ─ from the buy side to the sell side, vendors and consultants alike ─ experienced their own version of "live fire" as Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the region from Sunday into Monday.

The area is still dealing with extensive power blackouts, and mass transit has ground to a halt. Buildings and homes throughout the region have experienced flood and wind damage. Major exchanges throughout the US were closed, which means that these venues will have to deal with expected trade-volume spikes when they re-open today.

Business continuity planning (BCP) ─ a tedious topic at the best of times ─ is essential, but even the best laid plans can go awry when a disaster the size of Hurricane Sandy strikes.

My own company, Incisive Media, experienced this. Our US offices are at 55 Broad St., diagonally across from the New York Stock Exchange. It experienced flooding and the power was knocked out, forcing my colleagues to work from home.

Less Affected
I, however, was less affected ─ I am currently in London and therefore missed the ordeal. But in order for me to access my email, I still need to go through our US servers. A few months back, we opted to migrate our email to the cloud. Presumably, this meant that even if we lost power at 55 Broad and the servers went down, we'd still be able to access our email, delivered through Microsoft Exchange.

What we found out, though, was that this was not the case. Late Monday/early Tuesday the email server "fell over" and for several hours on Tuesday, US-based employees could not access their email. The problem was fixed relatively quickly, but there's no doubt that a lesson was learned.

I would imagine that numerous lessons were learned throughout the industry in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and many more still may come as trading fully resumes today and throughout the week.

We'd like to hear your stories from the "Frankenstorm". Did your systems perform perfectly? Were there crashes? Are you reevaluating your BCP practices?

My email is working again, so you can reach me at [email protected] or you can call me at 646-490-3973. I will return your call when I get back to the office next week.

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