According to weather forecasters, Frances is expected to begin mercilessly battering Floridas eastern coastline sometime late Friday. More than two million Floridians have already been given notice to evacuate and more could follow to keep ahead of the storm, currently seen extending as much as 80 miles from its center.
Last month, Hurricane Charley caught many in Florida by surprise due to its slightly altered course, confounding forecasters at the last minute. The storms 145 mph winds tore through southwestern Florida, causing billions of dollars in damage statewide. Some reports suggest that Frances could even exceed the destruction wrought by Hurricane Andrew, which pummeled Florida in 1992. Recognized as the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, Andrew caused damages exceeding $20 billion.
Still in full blown cleanup mode in Hurricane Charleys wake, some agencies, such as the Florida Department of Health, say they have taken the necessary IT and logistical steps to prepare for the anticipated fury of Frances.
"This is going to obviously be an awful lot worse [than Charley]. The news is saying it is bigger than Andrew. Wherever it strikes, theres going to be a lot of flooding and an awful lot of wind damage," said David Taylor, CIO of Tallahassee-based Florida Department of Health.
"Were very well-prepared … we did very well against Charley, so were hoping to duplicate that, even though this [storm] is much larger."
According to Taylor, redundant communications are critical during disaster recovery deployments. He said the state is equipped with an assortment of technologies to support communications during the storm, including cellular phones, satellite phones, radio functions, BlackBerrys and redundant e-mail systems tied to a hot data center site for failover.
In fact, critical e-mail systems have already been migrated onto servers outside the projected path of the storm. Florida runs thousands of servers dominated by Microsoft Windows, but also featuring Sun Solaris, Linux and Apache as well.
Taylor credits the BlackBerry and its capacity to perform peer-to-peer messaging as a critical tool during Charley as the only form of electronic communications able to send and receive transmissions to a makeshift Charlotte Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Florida as the brunt of the storm raged.
"[During the hurricane], Charlottes first two Emergency Communications Centers were crushed. [Charley] blew the roof right off. They had to go to backup EOC centers and that didnt have an IT infrastructure, so BlackBerrys were all they had at that point," Taylor said.