--> Gill Blog: Toronto Storm Demonstrates Importance of Redundant Communications

Gill Blog

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Toronto Storm Demonstrates Importance of Redundant Communications

Friday afternoons in the summer are supposed to be a time to unwind and prepare for the lazy, sunny weekend that lies ahead. After tending to some final agenda items, it should be time to close up shop until Monday. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Yesterday Toronto was hit by what could best be described as a freak summer storm that not only consisted of wind gusts in excess of 160 km/hr (that’s more than 100 m.p.h.), but a crazy torrent of rain. There was so much rain in fact, that major arteries were shut down due to flooding (One would think the picture we have posted here is from a Carribean Island being battered by a hurricane - in fact, it's a picture from my neighborhood!).

This would have been an interesting topic to blog about, had I not been right in the middle of the action. My wife and I have a fairly regular routine each day where I pick her up from a nearby subway station, while the kids are at home with a sitter. The trip usually takes no more than 20-30 minutes. Yesterday, I was caught right in the middle of the downpour. As a result, my 20-30 minute trip yesterday took over three hours.

Of the many things I witnessed first hand yesterday was the multitude of motorists caught in the same traffic jam as I was, hopelessly trying to use their mobile phones. My phone didn’t work, so I thought it was nothing more than a case of a faulty phone, but when I heard over the news today that mobile phone networks were knocked out throughout the city, I realized just how big the problem was.

The main issue I had to deal with yesterday was simply informing the babysitter that we were stuck, and the kids should be taken care of. After trying to get through with my mobile, I remembered reading an article a few years back describing the chaos of September 11, and how some people like Jonathan Beyman of Lehman Brothers used Blackberries to stay in touch.
I was trying to figure out who was alive. I'm in a meeting in London, and somebody bursts in, and we all huddle around TVs. "That's my building," I'm thinking. My office was in One World Trade Center, the 40th floor. I can't get anybody on the phone. Everybody there was heading toward the stairwells. I couldn't get anybody on mobile phones, either. Blackberries were working, so we started getting e-mails (as a sidenote, it's interesting to note that the performance of Blackberries on that fateful day demonstrated to the world that it was much more than a vanity communication gadget).

Instictively, I pulled over to the side and used my Palm Treo to send out a couple of messages. One was to a friend who I asked to used his terrestrial line to call the babysitter and give her instructions of what to do, and the other was to my wife to let her know where I was, as well as the situation I was trying to manage. In both instances, the fact that I had a redundant communication device that operated on a different network significantly helped us manage a trying set of circumstances.

Our experience last night, however inconsequential it may have seemed, shows how unexpected events - especially in huge cities – can cause chaos. Managing through such situations requires a well-balanced approach to risk mitigation, and a well thought out communications strategy plays a big part in this. You may wish to look at the preview for the communication component of our Gill BCP program we currently offer in our Campus Continuity program. It will give you a good idea of some of the issues that need to be considered.