IT disaster recovery during Cyclone Lam

Planning ahead was critical for NEC technicians

Cyclone Lam struck the Northern Territory in February causing millions of dollars in damage. The 230 kilometre-per-hour gusts also threatened to destroy emergency communications systems.

In remote locations, police and health rely on the IT infrastructure within the local school for network connectivity.

For example, Cyclone Lam knocked out Galwinku’s main power supply cutting the local police station off from all forms of communications.

The local school’s computer system, router, switches, server and network storage appliances were damaged by flood water so NEC technicians were sent in from Darwin to replace the equipment.

The vendor is responsible for maintaining computer and networks at all government agency sites across the Northern Territory.

NEC Australia service director Benjamin Smith said the problem was that the whole region was knocked out with a power outage.

Staff only became aware of the issue in Galwinku because people with satellite phones contacted them, he said.

“There was no other form of communication out to that area. One of the challenges we faced was working out what the potential issues were,” he said.

“When we knew where the cyclone was going to hit, we started to prepare spare equipment in Darwin in preparation for flying it out,” he said.

“With the school [in Galwinku], it was the hub for the network so to fix the issue we had to get the school back online.”

NEC technicians prepared a replica of the IT network in the region so that it could fly in the hardware that was required.

“We were also looking to establish a 3G network but the cell tower for the region was blown over in the cyclone,” said Smith.

IT communications were restored to the region over some hours.

Read more: The show must go on: How to prepare a business continuity plan

The lesson learnt from Cyclone Lam was that preparing for a natural disaster is crucial. Because of the nature of the events, it has had to “war game” and conduct disaster recovery exercises, he said.

In the last 12 months, NEC has prepared for an outbreak of flu in the Northern Territory and looking at how it would respond to that.

“When we have a physical presence there, we wouldn’t want to be putting them at risk [of flu]. We would set up working from home arrangements and make sure people have connectivity,” he said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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