--> Gill Blog: Batten Down for Isabel

Gill Blog

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Batten Down for Isabel

In November of 1985, I was a junior at Florida State University in Tallahassee. By that time of year, hurricane season is usually long over, so when my roommates and I heard about one last tropical depression developing in the Caribbean, we hardly paid it any attention. Even if it did pick up, there was no way it would make its way northward. Or could it? After a week, we heard the news in the early morning -- get ready, Hurricane Kate was going to hit us in the late afternoon. And boy, did it ever. After winding its way to the Florida panhandle, it struck us right between the eyes.

This was initially bad news for me. I had tickets to see an up and coming band from Athens GA called R.E.M., and Kate cancelled the show. However, from the perspective of a college junior, it was all fun, and was a great excuse to go to one of many "hurricane parties" that were going on at discreet locations across campus (a state of emergency had been declared, and national guardsman were patrolling the streets enforcing strict curfew orders, forcing us to sneak around John Belushi-style to complete the circuit of "must attend" parties).

For businesses, however, it was a different story altogether, as they were singularly focussed on business continuity. 1985 had also been the year of Hurricane Gloria which had carved a swath up the eastern seaboard to New York and beyond. Still, despite the economic damage caused by Gloria, it was still a time when we as a society were less "tethered". By that I mean the interdependencies between organizations were less organized than they are today (especially electronically), and as a result, the economic impact of a hurricane could be less pronounced than it would be if it were to strike in 2003.

As we carefully monitor the movements of Isabel, we inevitably come across stories about disaster preparedness from the "man on the street" point of view, but in the wake of a series of events that have occurred in the past few years that cause mass disruption, these human interest stories are now appear alongside stories having to do with business preparedness for the event.

We're barely a month removed from the power outage, but now we read about utility companies making elaborate preparations for the storm using the lessons they learned from events that seem as though they occurred just a few days ago. IT managers are ensuring that backup generators in call centers and data centers are ready to go just in case, and large companies are furiously testing and preparing their "hotsites" for a prolonged period of dislocation. There seems to be more advanced approaches being taken to prepare for natural disasters, particularly by businesses, than in years past. Business continuity and disaster recovery protocols are registering, and they will have an impact.

I saw a retired couple interviewed on CNN last night, who had their own "faith-based preparedness plan" for hurricane Isabel. They were doing nothing, and ignoring the mandatory evacuation notice, believing that they will be spared or taken in accordance with God's plan for them. Everyone should pray for these people, while making prudent preparation for life safety and business continuity for themselves.


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