Based in New Jersey, AT&T was directly in the line of Hurricane Sandy, but managed to stay operational

How AT&T’s investment in disaster recovery paid off during Hurricane Sandy

Though the storm hit U.S. shores roughly eight weeks ago, the effects of Hurricane Sandy are still being felt today. Many homeowners and businesses are still working to get on their feet, though one telecommunications giant may provide one of the best examples yet of how a strong business continuity plan can pay dividends in the event of a major storm.

In an interview with Computerworld UK  Chris Costello, who heads the clouds strategy division for AT&T, described the steps his company took to stay operational during Sandy. It was a significant task, since the corporation is actually headquartered in New Jersey, which was directly in the storm's path.

According to Costello, AT&T began work on its disaster recovery plan more than 20 years ago, and after 125,000 hours of work and $600 million in spending, the company has developed a plan that proved its mettle this fall.

That type of investment was needed to protect AT&T's significant infrastructure, which itself was relied upon for communications between first responders, disaster relief coordinators and others on the ground in the days and weeks following Sandy's first impact.

"We transmit 33 petabytes of data across our network on an average day, we have over 9,000 network buildings, 211,000 satellite locations, 3,000 MPLS nodes, over 900,000 miles of network fiber – that's a lot to protect, and so constant monitoring and testing is critical for us," he told the source.

Knowing that the storm was on its way, AT&T activated its emergency response teams, which included mobile cell towers that rest on the back of trucks. These units ensured AT&T customers in the area could still establish a cell phone connection if they needed to call for help.

Despite being in the direct path of the storm, AT&T's core network also remained online throughout the hurricane thanks in part to several separate regional operation centers and 3,000 generators, which powered the company's cell service sites. The company ensured it was able to communicate with data vendors and key partners at critical times, and deployed mobile disaster recovery trucks that allowed workers to perform duties no matter where they were located physically.

Applying AT&T's disaster recovery approach to smaller operations

Of course, the global telecommunications giant has the resources to invest in such a significant business continuity plan – the company earned more than $126 billion in revenue last year. However, the lesson here is not in the size, cost or scope of AT&T's business continuity plan, but rather its attention to detail and thoughtful implementation.

AT&T knew that its own failure to stay online could create a catastrophic domino effect – imagine the negative impact if emergency responders in the New York and New Jersey area were unable to communicate due to downed cellular infrastructure.

Acknowledging this potentially grim scenario, AT&T took steps to shore up its own capabilities first and then took the concept a step further to ensure consistent cellular access for its customers – in the form of the mobile cell sites.

Most importantly – AT&T made these considerations despite being in a region of the country that had a relatively low risk for earthquakes or hurricanes. The company specifically chose New Jersey as a base for these reasons, but prepared for the unexpected all the same.

This type of foresight takes careful consideration and plenty of advanced planning, the type that takes time to put together. That's why many businesses turn to expert consultations when drafting business continuity plans.