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Surviving Hurricane Sandy

By Heshy Friedman

Being in the New York City Metro area, our business was affected by Hurricane Sandy. While not receiving the devastation and flooding like the coastal regions, our area was plagued by a staggering amount of fallen trees and downed power lines. Roughly eighty percent of Rockland County lost power during the storm, including our office building. All of our employees also lost power at their homes.

The power went out in the office on Monday afternoon. Once we lost power, our data server in the office shut down. Our battery backups kicked in at the initiation of the blackout, but it was obvious that this was going to be a long-term blackout. Unable to do any work in the current situation, I closed the business for the duration of Monday, as well as Tuesday. I moved into the home of my in-laws, who live in one of the few areas that remained with power throughout the storm. This allowed me to have email access throughout the week and still be in touch with my customers. I was also able to setup an email autoresponder message stating that our business operations were down for the storm. I also had the ability to access all the data files on our office server through our online backup. This proved critical since there were two clients that needed emergency changes, and we were able to accomplish this with our online backup.

On Wednesday, power was restored at our office complex. I got our computers and file server up and running again, but our Internet and phones were still down. Our Internet provider is Optimum Online, and it was impossible to get through to them to know when they would be fixing the problem. In the meantime, the offices in our building with Verizon FIOS had service. Being that our business is crippled without an Internet connection, I needed to think of a plan to get up and running. What we did was run some wires and cables into our neighbor’s FIOS account, change the settings, and get our system back up on a temporary connection. Getting everything back up and running again, and rewiring and configuring the network took a significant amount of time, but we were finally almost back to normal again by Thursday, except for our phones.

Our phones system uses an in-house Asterisks box connected to VOIP through our Internet. This requires a static IP connection, which we have with Optimum. We could not get this configured on the temporary FIOS account, so our phones remained down, without any update from Optimum when the Internet and hence our phones would be restored. To make matters worse, cell phone reception was awful and phone calls kept on dropping. The cell phone problem had to do with many of the cellular towers being out of commission, and the overload of cell phone calls during this time due to the other phones being out. Thankfully our customers understood and were able to bear with us.

The following week after Hurricane Sandy found us still without phone service, though business was otherwise pretty much back to usual. We were managing off our cell phones, and putting a special emphasis on email communication. We also had routed our business phone to a call service, who would email us all messages. Finally on Thursday, a week and a half following Sandy, our Internet came back. However, the phones were still not working, and I had identified the problem being the static IP box which malfunctioned, presumably from the blackout. I attempted to call Optimum in vain, as the wait to speak to someone was several hours. I then tried their chat, which too was in for the same reason.

On Friday, I made sure to start a chat session with Optimum upon coming in to my office. When I had to leave the office early at about 1:00 PM, there were still close to 100 people ahead of me on the chat queue. I logged back in from home to periodically check, and sometime in the afternoon, about two hours prior to sunset, I finally got through to a chat operator. I explained the problem, and she made an appointment with us on Monday to correct the problem. A technician came on Monday, resolved the problem with the unit, and we were finally back up and running 100% exactly two weeks after the storm.

Though our business was definitely affected by the hurricane, we are thankful that our losses were only temporary. There are homes and businesses in other parts of our area that were totally devastated and will take a long time to recover. We are proud to say that none of our web hosting servers went down during the storm, and all our clients’ websites and emails remained up the entire time. It is important to have a disaster recovery plan, and we cannot stress the importance of having a backup of all data, especially an online backup system. We have learned many lessons from this storm, though we hope not to have to apply them anytime in the near future.

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