After Katrina: Is I.T. Ready for Another Killer Storm?By David F. Carr | Posted 2006-08-28 Email Print
One year after the Category 5 hurricane ravaged the southeast, information-technology managers in New Orleans who are still rebuilding backup systems hope they won't be tested again.
The people who suffered through Hurricane Katrina are hoping against hope that their rebuilding efforts won't be tested by another storm in 2006.
The New Orleans region feels "like a gash, with a thin scab over it," says David Graser, chief information officer of West Jefferson Medical Center.
His hospital, 10 miles outside New Orleans, was still shoring up backup systems and other emergency preparations last month, nearly a year after the storm hit in late August 2005. Although West Jefferson was spared flooding and other severe damage, it had to operate without electric power and with little outside assistance for more than two weeksmuch longer than the two days its emergency plans had called for.
Repairs to levees and other storm protection systems in the area are still only partly complete, and neighborhoods throughout New Orleans that flooded in the storm are in an uneven state of repair and repopulation; some blocks have even been abandoned.
"Everyone is just kind of holding their breath," says Greg Meffert, who served as the city of New Orleans' chief technology officer until his resignation in July to return to the private sector (see New Orleans CTO Ships Out). "If we can get through one hurricane season, by the time next year rolls around, the city is just going to be a much stronger place."
Meffert, a former software entrepreneur who came to work for the city after the election of Mayor Ray Nagin in 2002, says he still wants to help with the city's recoverybut as a private citizen, rather than from within a city bureaucracy he always found frustrating.
He rode out Katrina in a storm-blasted Hyatt Hotel, where he and his staff improvised the restoration of basic communications services to help coordinate recovery efforts. With voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) gear looted from an Office Depot, they got on the phone to the White House (see Picking Up the Pieces).
In the months after Katrina, Meffert touted a wireless computer network built with donated equipment as a tool for restoring city operations when phone and Internet service was still spotty. But ultimately, Meffert decided that a more practical route was to have a private company take responsibility for the wireless network, and in May the city announced an agreement with EarthLink, which will offer free Internet wireless access and also sell high-speed connections.
"It's an example of the city coming back and being better than where it started," Meffert says.