Network Operators Brace for Isabel

Voice and data carriers check generators, sandbag central offices and put repair crews on standby as the hurricane churns toward land.
Posted September 17, 2003

Colin C. Haley

Unlike this summer's blackout, Hurricane Isabel isn't catching anyone by surprise -- least of all voice and data network operators with facilities and customers along the Eastern Seaboard.

For days, carriers have been bracing for the swirling storm that's forecast to hit North Carolina tomorrow. All are optimistic they can keep service up and running, or at least limit outages and downtime.

AT&T , which is completing a 3-day drill of its network disaster recovery team in Boston today, will send some of its technicians and 150 tractor trailer trucks south to staging areas.

The team, which carries cable and satellite receivers to bypass damaged phone and Internet network centers, strives to restore service within 72 hours. It's been used after blackouts, earthquakes and on Sept. 11.

In addition, the Bedminster, N.J., telecom has invested hundreds of millions of dollars fortifying its buildings and systems.

"All of these facilities are equipped with two levels of emergency back-up power," said Reed Harrison, an AT&T vice president. "In addition, the vast majority of AT&T's fiber-optic cable is buried several feet underground."

At Verizon , technicians are double-checking the backup-power systems, sandbagging low-lying equipment stations along the Virginia coast and placing repair crews on alert.

"The bottom line is, if it is humanly possible, Verizon will continue providing service when a storm like this hits," said John Griffin, vice president for emergency preparedness at the New York-based Baby Bell.

Like other major service providers, Verizon's nationwide network is monitored around the clock, and the company can re-route traffic around storm-damaged areas.

BellSouth said its experience with past hurricanes, including Floyd, prompted it to bury 90 percent of its lines underground to protect against falling branches and other debris.

"All 13 central offices in the Wilmington (N.C.) area are connected by two separate routes so that even if one is severed, the connection will not be broken," said Krista Tillman, president of the firm's North Carolina operations.

So far, there is no word on storm-related cancellations at IT firms. A Hewlett-Packard spokeswoman said its Business Matchmaking event in Washington, D.C., on Friday, is still on.

A Red Hat spokesperson was not immediately available for comment on whether the Raleigh, N.C.-based open source software maker will allow workers to stay home if Isabel seems headed for the city.

In the lastest crisis -- last month's Northeast blackout -- most networks held up relatively well, however, some mobile phone customers were unable to get a dial tone due to spot outages and heavy call volumes.

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