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Technology versus the hurricane

While we think about the devastation that New Orleans residents have been through, we tend to think about relief efforts focusing on the basics: food, water, shelter and clothing. I thought it might be interesting to look at the technology side of things. Would all the technology in the world help a situation like this? What will the recovery efforts be to try to restore businesses back to some level of functionality?

Hurricane forecasting tools and equipment continue to research the processes within a storm that can turbocharge its strength in a matter of hours. The ultimate goal is to enable forecasters to predict trends in the landfall strength of a hurricane 12 to 24 hours before it reaches shore. But even with the best technology in place, officials could not predict the true magnitude and force of Hurricane Katrina.

Certainly everyone has an opinion about the events that unfolded around Hurricane Katrina, as evidenced by discussions on a huge number of Internet blogs. Some say this was a disaster waiting to happen, with a city built below sea level and bordered by major bodies of water on three sides, with little land to intervene. Others try to explore why this happened (act of God, global warming, etc.), while still others discuss how we were so ill-prepared for an event like this … and who should be to blame. Bloggers with good intentions are helping the displaced people find each other, find temporary housing, and receive love and support through many kind words. It is in this way that the fairly new technology of blogging has really made a positive impact on this tragedy.



As reported by Cnet’s News.com, many large technology and communication companies have already stepped up to help with immediate ways to improve the situation. Sprint Nextel, for instance, promptly sent two dozen specialty vehicles to coordinate recovery efforts and restore communication services. Among the vehicles sent were five satellite cells and 3,000 Nextel Walkie Talkie handsets to aid with restoration of government and emergency services. Qwest Communications sent 2,000 long-distance calling cards, so that those affected could call loved ones. The company also said it has given the Red Cross $230,000 to help train responders. Cable giant Comcast donated $10 million worth of advertising time for public service announcements related to hurricane relief. The Intel Foundation donated $1 million to the American Red Cross for disaster relief efforts in addition to matching, dollar-for-dollar, employee contributions in support of the relief effort through the month of September.

While most recovery efforts so far have rightly focused on personal losses, we are coming to a point where the impact on business and the economy of the Gulf Coast states will start to gain greater attention. How do these companies start back up? One of the first ways is to restore digital data and to get the computers to a recovery company as soon as possible. People are being told to wrap their computers in plastic and ship them off. Once the computer dries out, decay sets in, making it extremely hard to recover the data. Though many businesses rely on digital data in their day-to-day operations, another early step in business recovery is to get e-mail and Internet services working, enabling staff to conduct at least some business remotely.



Unfortunately, many businesses were not as prepared as they could have been. It is wise for all businesses to make backups of their data (and taking the backup files during evacuation), to have identical business computers far from the affected office, or to secure a back-up data center in facilities outside their area. Some companies did have disaster recovery plans and are already setting up remote offices and computer systems across the country. Technology has helped them to begin again, quickly. But for many, disaster recovery plans, which really were spurred from Sept. 11, just did not materialize in time.

Technology giants IBM, SunGard and HP are helping many companies needing recovery help. Some clients are requesting mobile trailers complete with servers, satellite communications, generators and office equipment to get rolling again. Affected companies include such businesses as banks, insurance companies, health care organizations, oil and chemical companies, manufacturers and government agencies.

Some may say it’s too early to focus on rebuilding businesses in the Gulf Coast states, with human suffering still so immediate. It will certainly be with the help of current technology to allow rebuilding the economy of the region and enable people to start anew … to once again live, and ideally, thrive in the region they call home.

Heather Austin is the marketing director at Blizzard Internet Marketing Inc., based in Glenwood Springs. Blizzard will write a technology column once a month. For more information on Blizzard Internet Marketing Inc., go to their Web site at http://www.blizzardinternet.com.


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