Blackout Looms for NYC

This summer's forecast: hot and disaster-prone

March 17, 2006

3 Min Read
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IT managers in and around New York City are facing a major test of their disaster recovery plans if, as some experts predict, another massive power outage hits the region this summer.

Jon Toigo, chairman of the Data Management Institute, and president of analyst firm Toigo Partners International urged IT managers to prepare for the worst during a speech at a disaster recovery event this morning. Toigo, whose regular column on Byte and Switch has touched on these sorts of emergency preparedness issues, today told attendees, "You're looking at a major possibility for disaster this summer. I have talked to a lot of energy firms and they are concerned about this."

With a particularly hot summer forecast, the power grid will again be stretched to the limit, according to Toigo, who urged users to recall the hard lessons of the 2003 blackout. "If they have separate [backup] facilities, make sure that they are on a separate grid. Putting them over the river in New Jersey may not help."

Local government officials, businesses, and community groups in New York recently highlighted the city's looming power crisis, warning that future blackouts would be unprecedented in their length and severity. Last summer, the New York Independent System Operator, the organization that handles the state's power grid, was forced to take last-minute precautions to avert another major outage, when temperatures in the city skyrocketed.

All that seemed worlds away from the cold, blustery wind buffeting the Times Square hotel where today's meeting was held, but Jeremiah Shrum, senior infrastructure engineer of New York brokerage specialist SciVantage, admitted that that a repeat of 2003 could spell real trouble for users. "If you have your backup too close to your primary location that's a problem," he said, but added that his firm is well prepared. "We will be fine. We have multiple data centers geographically dispersed around the country, and multiple service providers."But another IT manager from the healthcare sector, who asked not to be named, told Byte and Switch that he is not so sure about his own firm's ability to withstand another major blackout. "If the outage would go beyond 12 hours, that would be a major concern," he said. "I don't think that we have generators or UPS backup that could last for that long."

The executive added that, despite the havoc wrought in 2003, his firm's backup procedures have been held back by cost constraints. "We have a remote backup facility, but not for every application. It's a financial issue."

Mitchell Vallone, business continuity practice manager at accounting firm Marcum & Kliegman, agreed that effective backup comes at a price. "You're always challenged if you go to a different grid because of the cost and complexity," he explained. "You still have to be able to bring it up on the other side."

But Vallone, whose firm has offices in New York City and Long Island, admitted that preparing for another blackout is not his No.1 disaster recovery priority. "I suppose that lightning could strike twice," he said. "But I am more concerned about hurricanes and stuff like that."

The 2003 power outage affected an estimated 40 million people in the northeastern U.S., including some 21 million in the New York City area. Blackout-related financial losses were estimated at $6 billion.James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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