How Technology Can Help Mitigate Hurricane Harvey-Like Disasters

John Breeden II | Next Gov | September 5, 2017

Unfortunately, we don’t yet have technology that can prevent a storm of the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey from devastating our cities and towns. But it can help in the response, and even provide valuable information for citizens trying to survive a catastrophic event. One key is properly locating backup and recovery systems for government agencies. Typically, most cities and towns with a backup plan for their data rely on nearby data centers. That’s fine if there is a fire at the local office building or something that forces the temporary closure of government buildings. 

However, these local backups are far less effective in dealing with events like Harvey, where an entire city or an even larger geographic area is damaged or destroyed. A Department of Homeland Security report issued after Superstorm Sandy cited this as one potential weakness in most government backup plans. There were towns in New Jersey that had both their main data centers and their backups flooded or otherwise destroyed by the storm. Part of the problem with a state like New Jersey attempting to do offsite backup within its borders is its size. Having the main data center in Trenton backed-up in Newark might not offer enough separation for a major weather event or another disaster. In that, Texas is a little better positioned, able to house its backups well inland from its coastal cities. 

The federal government goes even further than that with its critical assets. As part of its $4.6 billion Global Information Grid Services Management Operation aimed at modernizing Defense Department communications and networks, several Defense Information Systems Agency network centers around the world were consolidated into just two facilities. Though the facilities mirror each other in capabilities, one is located in Hawaii while the second is in Illinois. The main reason for the distance between the two facilities is to prevent any one disaster from crippling Defense networks. It’s almost inconceivable outside of an extinction life event for any disaster to endanger Illinois and Hawaii at the same time...