The United Telecom Council (UTC) is a global trade association of companies that own, manage, or provide critical telecommunications systems to better support their core business. These companies include electric, gas, and water utilities; natural gas pipelines; critical infrastructure companies; and other industry stakeholders. Due to the nature of their environment during disaster situations, these utilities generally operate their own private communications systems, since past experience has proved that commercial telecommunications networks may have high rates of failure.
The storms of the 2005 hurricane season ï¿½ specifically Katrina, Rita, and Wilma ï¿½ severely impacted the entire telecommunications industry in Florida and the Gulf Coast. One aspect of the experience is that the radio, fiber, and microwave internal networks of the electric, gas, and water utilities functioned quite well throughout the storm and immediately thereafter. The commercial wireless, landline telephone and other telecommunications networks did not fare nearly as well. Even the UTC companies that experienced damage generally maintained communications via redundancy and most were fully back on line within 24ï¿½48 hours. Many of the commercial communications networks were still recovering months later. Perhaps the UTC can provide all of us with some guidance on how to better prepare for disaster and what better advisor than William R. Moroney, President and Chief Executive Officer of the UTC.
Rich Tehrani (RT): I believe the UTC ran a formal survey to determine just how well the industry performed and to assess why its performance as compared to its commercial counterparts was so dramatically diverse.
William R. Moroney (WRM): Yes, and the data provided some very interesting facts. For example, 86 percent of the responding companies reported that their communications networks not only survived, but continued to operate well throughout the restoration efforts. In particular, the crews from the many responding companies provided critical communications using land mobile radio (LMR) networks.
RT: How is it that the UTC companies so clearly outperform the commercial operators?
WRM: The quick is answer is we build them to survive disaster so that we can use them to restore critical services. However, in fairness to the commercial operators, the critical infrastructure industries (CII) have a much narrower focus. The redundancies and robustness built into the CII systems are limited in size and scope since they are designed and constructed to meet specialized needs. Similar construction might be cost-prohibitive for a commercial system. However, the performance of the CII networks proved the fact that communications systems can withstand the flooding and intense winds of a hurricane if they are built extremely well.
Max Schroeder (MS): Even though the UTC networks performed very well, what limitations were observed and what steps can be taken to eliminate them in the future?
WRM: Residents of the affected areas in 2005 were served by a wide variety of utilities, both large and small, that pool their resources in times of disaster through a network of mutual assistance contracts. The most reliable forms of communication during the crisis were the land mobile radio (LMR) systems, primarily because these systems are specifically built to weather such disasters. One downside is that the responding utilities operated on several different frequency bands, which, in many cases, forced host utility personnel carrying local radios to act as guides and communications links. Although necessary, it would be more efficient to have them working directly on the recovery effort. A second shortcoming is that, without a communal communications network, CII companies cannot effectively communicate with public safety or Federal responders. The solution to both of these limitations would be for the FCC (News - Alert) to issue a small allocation of dedicated spectrum that can them be built to CII standards.
This network could provide a reliable communications solution for both CII personnel and other responders. The UTC has lobbied for this allocation on behalf of its members for a number of years. Certainly, the events of 2005 demonstrated the need for such a solution.
MS: What recommendations would you suggest for enterprises to prepare for disaster?
WRM: The ï¿½Top Threeï¿½ recommendations are redundancy, redundancy, and redundancy. This can actually prove much easier for a typical enterprise than the UTC member companies. Although redundancy comes at a premium, it is much less expensive for the typical enterprise as compared to the cost for UTC member companies. Most enterprises have a major advantage in that they can flee a disaster. In contrast, our members are committed to getting to the disaster area as quickly as possible and restoring services. This means that enterprises can have failover locations in several geographic areas to minimize the cost of redundancy. With the exception of LMR systems, most utilities use the same telecommunications technology (albeit more private than commercial) as the average enterprise but their personnel do not have the option of leaving the affected area and connecting to a remote failover site.
Again, we see that planning for a disaster or business interruption can be achieved successfully if done properly. With todayï¿½s IP solutions, even the cost is within the scope of most enterprises. The UTC (http://www.utc.org) is an excellent resource for any company seeking to understand the role of critical communications requirements in a disaster scenario. IT
If your company is interested in business continuity planning please visit http://www.tmcnet.com/channels/disaster-preparedness/default2.htm to view additional information provided by DPCF members, TMC and the ECA. IT
Max Schroeder is a board member of the ECA, media relations committee chairman, and liaison to TMC. He is also the Sr. Vice President of FaxCore, Inc.
Rich Tehrani is the President and Group Editor-in-Chief at TMC and is Conference Chairman of Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO.
If your organization has an interest in participating in the TMC/ECA Disaster Preparedness Communications Forum, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].
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