In the Face of

By Steve Kovsky  |  Posted 2007-11-30 Print this article Print

Disaster, Ingenuity Saves the Day"> Martins household was among nearly 40,000 that received notifications from the Poway school district that morning, according to PUSD Chief Technology Officer Robert Gravina: "We sent out about 270,000 connected messages that week," using the districts newly installed ConnectEd Notification System, from The NTI Group. Amazingly, "of all the messages we sent out, we only got about 15 that were bad e-mail addresses or wrong phone numbers," Gravina said. He credited not only the flawless operation of the notification system, which is updated nightly, but also the "clean and accurate" databases that the district maintains for its 33,000 students and 5,000 staff members.
"You have to be prepared for the communication," Gravina said. "If the database isnt accurate, then its worthless." Unfortunately, "the county did not have good information," resulting in failed notifications in some cases, and in other cases, families mistakenly being evacuated from areas that were not directly in danger from the fires.
To read more about synching up for disaster recovery, click here. "Thats not unusual" Gravina added. "People change their addresses and phone numbers all the time." Constant maintenance of the data, and nightly uploads to a remote server, are key to being prepared when disaster strikes, he said. By Monday afternoon, the IT professionals interviewed for this story found themselves fleeing from the flames. McCoy received the countys reverse 911 call, and joined the mass exodus with 40,000 of his neighbors as the entire community of Fallbrook came under mandatory evacuation, with orders to head west onto the grounds of the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. Gravinas school district headquarters came under its own evacuation orders. He led a final raid on the district office with a few co-workers to grab irreplaceable backup tapes. "We evacuated, and the Sheriffs Department and Homeland Security took over our office while we were removed to the city offices." Soon he had resurrected the districts core IT infrastructure in the Poway City Council chambers, while he coordinated the commandeering of district schools and its transportation fleet by agencies supporting the thousands of firefighters fanning out across the county. Sonys Martin, a New York native who had already lived through the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City prior to relocating with Sony to Rancho Bernardo in 2004, now was faced with a new and equally volatile situation. Jumping in the car with his wife, kids and dog, he barely had time to grab "photo albums, a change of clothes, some hard drives and some teddy bears," he said. Although local authorities were warning residents to stay off their cell phones, to keep communications lines open for emergency crews, Martins mobile phone quickly became a life-line as he joined Sonys hastily assembled "crisis task force." Finding the corporate campus—in fact, entire city of Rancho Bernardo—suddenly off limits, "we had to make some unilateral battlefield calls," Martin said. Realizing that Sonys 2,000-plus local employees would be attending to their physical safety first, and checking messages second, Martin moved to quickly increase the size of each workers e-mail inbox. Next, recognizing that omnipresent BlackBerry devices had suddenly become the primary means of company communications, he issued a dictum asking all workers to refrain from sending large attachments that could choke off mobile communications. Although power outages were common during the week that the fires raged, Martin and Gravina never suffered a catastrophic loss of corporate communications. Page 3: In the Face of Disaster, Ingenuity Saves the Day


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