The success of disaster recovery plans in Haiti and Japan

The success of disaster recovery plans in Haiti and Japan




As well as causing unparallel destruction to both nations, the Japanese tsunami and Haitian earthquake were two extreme natural disasters that could also have had rather damaging consequences for the reputations of local carriers.

NTT and Digicel, however, both triumphed in the face of adversity, helping to restore services in record time in order to aid their respective relief efforts.

Here Capacity analyses their respective disaster recovery plans and discovers how the experiences of those events still impact on each company’s operations today. 

Case study: Haiti

As the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 was devastating for the local economy. The majority of Haiti’s buildings were not well constructed enough to withstand the force of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake. One of the few surviving buildings in the capital, Port-Au-Prince, was that of Caribbean operator Digicel, and it was to become a centre point for the company’s impressive disaster recovery effort.

During the Haitian earthquake, the majority of the country’s fixed infrastructure was entirely destroyed, but there was in fact limited damage to Digicel’s mobile network. Approximately 10% of the operator’s towers had been damaged and within 36 hours service had been restored.

In the wake of the earthquake, Digicel charitably gave all of its subscribers $5 of credit. The move backfired according to David Sharpe, Digicel Haiti’s head of products and pricing. “That five dollars cost almost three weeks worth of congestion. No network in the world is built so that everybody can use it at the same time.”

The majority of the sites damaged on Digicel’s network were based on the rooftops of buildings which had collapsed. In a number of cases, the equipment had merely fallen down and could be reclaimed and repaired easily.

Elsewhere, however, Digicel was able to ship in 40 mobile cell sites to fill gaps in its coverage and also raised its surviving antennas to optimise their broadcast range.

Since the earthquake, Digicel has been working to reduce the number of rooftop sites it uses, instead focussing on rolling out fibre throughout the country, allowing it extra redundancy and two options for delivering traffic.

As one of Haiti’s largest companies, pressure was placed on Digicel to be part of the general relief effort. One of the ways in which Digicel managed to help non-governmental organisations was through collaboration with a group called Flowminder.

By tracking population movements using anonymous subscriber device location data from before and after the earthquake, the Flowminder system was able to show where relief was needed most.

“We ran that programme for four months after the earthquake, but if it had been used in real time it could have saved tens of millions of dollars for the relief effort,” says Sharpe. Sharpe believes that Haiti’s regulator should have played a stronger role in the recovery effort, particularly in helping to organise the country’s carriers during the disaster relief effort.

“Regulators are just not prepared to deal with the overwhelming requirements of natural disasters. They should have come out with a set of policies in terms of who the carriers should be talking to from the relief effort,” he said.

He also emphasises the importance of looking after staff. Of more than 1000 Digicel staff members, approximately 325 of them had collapsed homes and/or lost family members. Digicel provided its Haitian staff with supplies and provisions as well as loans so that their families were looked after, and they could come back to work.

“If you don’t have a plan for your own staff you don’t have a plan on how you’re going to recover because they aren’t going to be there,” said Sharpe.

Case study: Japan

The 2011 Japanese tsunami left over 1.5 million lines damaged, 90 national truck lines severed, 990 exchange buildings without power and 16 completely destroyed. Approximately 10,000 business lines were also disconnected and five submarine cable systems were damaged. The combined damages amounted to $500 million.

Within one hour of the tsunami hitting the nation, NTT had pulled together its crisis management team and began moving traffic around in response to service failures. After 48 hours, many international services had been restored and three weeks later 90% of all domestic services had been restored.

“The scale of the disaster was unprecedented but I think broadly speaking the recovery was very successful,” says John Hammond, head of network services at NTT Europe. The recovery effort was centred on network resilience, network design and NTT’s disaster response plan for which all its staff are trained extensively in. NTT reintroduced microwave technology and car-mounted satellite systems to initially restore services.

Hammond stresses the importance of a disaster recovery plan which allows for swift mobilisation of staff, technology and supporting infrastructure to the affected areas and having a crisis management team on hold to organise it. “Really it’s not about just having a nicely designed network because disasters swell up issues that you just don’t expect.”

Since fully recovering services, NTT has been improving the resilience of its infrastructure with a reinvestment of $420 million. This included introducing basic measures such as the use of longer life batteries and more backup facilities. It also included adding new routes, changing the architecture of the company’s network to a more resilient ladder structure and adding new land routes to avoid the disaster prone coastline.

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