Temporary Refuge

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2005-10-04 Print this article Print

Vacuum-cleaner maker Oreck had the linchpin of its business continuity plan blown away by Hurricane Katrina. Intercosmos Media Group rode out Katrina with half a terabyte of data on the line, guarded by a former Green Beret whose preparations included gen

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Sept. 2 to 5: New Orleans stabilizes. Evacuations continue.

"The government is never equipped to handle a crisis like this. There's too much bureaucracy —initiative-stifling bureaucracy, which prevents swift, effective action."

It's Labor Day weekend, and DirectNIC is down to the last of its four high-speed Internet connections from TelCove, which isn't sure it can get enough diesel fuel to its generators before the connection drops.

With the help of Brian Acosta of I-55.com, DirectNIC's Internet service provider, the company helps TelCove get its fuel and restore two other Internet connections before the end of the day. Web sites that were temporarily dropped get brought back online.

Solares works with the city government and police to help those agencies communicate. The city has been using voice-over-Internet protocol phones, and he's offering equipment and expertise.

By Labor Day, all four of DirectNIC's Internet connections are online, putting the company solidly back in business, even though it's still running on generator power. Other buildings in the Central Business District are starting to get back power.

For Oreck, generators and trailers are secured as the company plans for a plant reopening on Sept. 9.

Sept. 6: Evacuations finish. Water in the city begins to recede.

"Man, it would be nice not to have to haul diesel anymore."

Barnett is making plans to pull servers from the Pan Am Life building across the street and get them online so Pan Am can download data to a backup location. DirectNIC's staff has already secured servers for other businesses in the area, bartering this service for water and other supplies.

Labor Day weekend is over, and the folks at Oreck and UPS are relieved. The long weekend stalled Oreck's efforts to truck its generators to its facilities, not to mention the trailers to house some of its homeless employees in Long Beach.

UPS managers go to Long Beach to get some of Oreck's equipment, notably the configured Zebra Technologies printers to create bar codes in the vacuum cleaner company's format. UPS also has to install electric wiring, network connections and lighting in a vacant area of the parcel company's Atlanta facility to absorb Oreck's shipments.

UPS delivers food and water to Oreck, which then fills the truck with orders that lack bar codes and serial numbers. UPS gets a pallet of products, say, air purifiers. From there, workers take apart the pallet and create a pick ticket or directions to bundle orders scheduled for a destination, such as Langhorne, Pa. An invoice is then recorded and shipped. Data is recorded manually into the Oreck mainframe in Boulder so customers can receive tracking information from call center representatives. "I've been the project manager for a lot of projects," says John Bunker, client solutions manager for the eastern district of UPS Supply Chain Solutions. "But this one was not much about planning, just executing."

Twenty-four to 30 trucks would make trips from Atlanta to Long Beach between Sept. 6 and 9, according to Behrendt.

Sept. 7 to 8: New Orleans calms, becomes a military town.

"If you want to play soldier with me, I will make you play it a lot longer than you had in mind."

Sometime after midnight on Sept. 8, a squad of 82nd Airborne soldiers accompanied by a U.S. Marshal bust into Intercosmos' data center, saying they're investigating lights and movement in the building. Annoyed at the intrusion, Barnett tells them that if they think there are intruders, they'd better check the building from top to bottom. His reward: Knowing that the building has been inspected, he gets his best sleep in weeks.

In the morning, Coleman leaves along with Solares and Donny Simonton, a senior vice president and technology manager. They're replaced by three fresh employees, while Solares scouts for new office locations.

Meanwhile, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has issued a mandatory evacuation order, but the DirectNIC people think they're exempt until told otherwise.

At Long Beach, Oreck ships products that were ordered before Katrina hit but never distributed. Employees reappear at the plant, which is gearing up for an opening ceremony with a cookout and appearance from Mississippi. Gov. Haley Barbour.

Sept. 9: New Orleans improves, but much of the city is still under water.

"I work well alone or in a group, I am self-motivated, I am an idea man, I pay attention to detail, and I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty."

Barnett, still working at the DirectNIC site, is looking for another gig. In the next few days, he hopes to stop hauling diesel and fretting about generator maintenance.

Oreck opens its Long Beach facility. Although the plant opens, it's not the same. The roof leaks. Information systems remain out due to a lack of communications infrastructure, and just two of five manufacturing lines are open. Oreck is manufacturing, shipping and receiving with pen and paper rather than computers driving processes. Power is back on but the phone lines are still down, leaving the factory cut off from its Dallas data center.

Electronic communication with the outside world has been reduced to executives calling suppliers from beneath the crumpled metal canopy of an outside break area, the spot where cell phone reception is best. Oreck supply chain director Candi Mauffray, however, says the factory is getting by, with 300 of 500 employees and 80% of the salaried staff back at work. "The one thing we don't have is systems," she says.

Indeed, at a Langhorne, Pa., company-owned Oreck outlet, the following sign sits at the checkout counter: "Please note our computer system is 'down' indefinitely. This is due to the fact that Oreck's corporate offices are located in New Orleans, La. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we provide written receipts."

Story Guide:

Diary of Disaster: Riding Out Katrina in the Data Center

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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