US and Caribbean telcos braced for more hurricanes after Harvey horror

Hurricane Harvey has moved on, but now the telecoms community in Florida and Puerto Rico are bracing themselves for Hurricane Irma, the latest category five storm barrelling its way towards them.

Hurricanes Irma Jose Katia

Hurricane Harvey left families and communities in Texas to rebuild their cities after what is rumoured to be roughly $10-$50 billion in damage. Now an even fiercer storm, Hurricane Irma, is heading across the Caribbean to Florida. And it is being followed by Jose and Katia. 

Harvey brought an unprecedented 40 inches of rain during a four-day period over Texas. And while relief efforts across the US continue to focus on its residents and most vulnerable, telecoms businesses were also affected.  

Houston is home to a number of companies in the telecoms sector, from carriers to operators, and of them approximately 40 are colocation data centres. These belong to Verizon, Level 3, Equinix, Fibertown, Quasar, Data Foundry, Carrier-4, CyrusOne and SoftLayer (owned by IBM), to name a few. While staff sleep in cots and work round the clock to deliver these mission critical services, they continue to combat the mass flooding and damage caused by the storm.

Verizon was among the first companies to release a statement updating its customers on the condition of its facility and services, while Lowell McAdam, Verizon chairman and CEO pledged $10 million in support of the community saying: 

“Verizon is committed to working alongside disaster relief partners to help return a sense of normalcy to residents and restore the areas impacted by the storm. Houston and South Texas are vital to the fabric of America and we want to be on the front lines of the rebuilding efforts.” 

The company deployed mobile equipment to aid service in areas that need extra network capacity and is working with first responders on the ground with communications services. In addition, it has announced a number of other initiatives to help the relief effort, which includes: relieving pay monthly customers from data, talk and text charges and giving prepaid customers an extra 3GB of data for data, talk and text for a limited period.

Digital Realty in a statement said: “The company's Houston data centre facility continues to maintain 100% uptime amid the historic rains and flooding brought by Hurricane Harvey”. He added that all its Houston based employees are safe and accounted for. “We are proud of the resiliency of our data centre designs as well as our operations teams on the ground,“ said its CEO, William Stein.

The company donated money, although no specific figure has been given, and has also said it will match contributions from Digital Realty employees. 

Equinix it seems was well prepared in advance for the storm, having in place “an on-site team of six personnel in the data centre throughout the duration of the storm … with food, water, sleeping cots and other amenities for the team,” said an Equinix spokesperson, adding that customers can and have been able to access the building but caution is advised. 

And despite the gravity of the storm, the company reports that the data centre has remained fully operational and has not experienced any interruption in service in relation to Harvey. 

Level 3, which has three buildings in the Houston area, reportedly had a few “isolated incidents” affecting a small number of customers but are resolving them “as quickly as possible” but that limited access to affected areas may cause a delay in network repairs. They too prepared ahead of time with teams of engineers and employees working through the storm to monitoring the facilities and its equipment. 

It also makes reference to the service redundancies and back-up systems it has in place, adding: “We have taken steps to confirm that our redundant back-up systems, emergency generators and UPS batteries are in place and ready in the event that commercial power becomes unavailable or remains unavailable. We are prepared to continue to provide business continuity and service support through redundant systems and secondary power resources indefinitely, so long as refueling resources are available to us.”

Data Foundry’s CTO, Edward Henigin, said that not only was the company prepared before the storm but it was prepared at the point of construction boasting: “Houston 2 is a purpose-built facility designed to withstand category 5 hurricane wind speeds. We chose this site to construct Houston 2 due to its lower risk of flooding. We also elevated the site an additional 3 feet during construction”, adding that the site has not lost utility power, and has not had to use back-up generators. 

The same goes for its West Houston facility, Houston 1 which is located within the Marathon Oil Tower. Additional staff were in place before the hurricane began, with staff rotations on a 24 hour period, with well stocked amenities on hand in the building. 

During the disastrous Hurricane Katrina in 2005, only three of approximately six data centres in the New Orleans area managed to stay operational during the storm. The same applied to Datagram’s colocation facility in Lower Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy, which was taken out of operation because of severe flooding to its basement. Overall it is clear to see that lessons have been learned by the data centre community over the years and no matter what comes its way, its resiliency remains second to none.