AT&T Conducts Disaster Exercise in Washington
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | Comments



Photo courtesy AT&T

By Lindsay A. Gross, Managing Editor

AT&T recently conducted its largest Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) exercise at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial stadium in Washington July 8 – 17. Conducted several times per year, AT&T NDR exercises are designed to test, evaluate, refine and strengthen how well AT&T can facilitate recovery from emergency situations, ranging from hurricanes to wildfires.

The NDR exercise is a key component of AT&T’s comprehensive business continuity plan, which ensures communications can be restored quickly to its government and business customers. “The exercises are necessary to ensure our preparedness; it’s important that people — employees and volunteers — as well as our assets — technology — are up to speed,” said Mark E. Francis, vice president of global network operations for AT&T.

The AT&T NDR Washington exercise was the 54th technical recovery exercise conducted in the field and the largest exercise the NDR team has ever conducted. The NDR exercise featured more than 45 disaster recovery trailers and vehicles, including 28 semi-tractor trailers, two emergency vehicles, four hazmat trailers, one satellite cell on light truck (COLT), and five small-sized utility and support trailers.

All of the telecommunications equipment required to recover a destroyed AT&T central office is transported to a recovery site in specially designed technology trailers. Each trailer has self-contained or dedicated power and environmental capabilities, and each houses a component of the network technology that would normally be part of a permanent office. Once on site, the individual components are interconnected to match the unique configuration of a heavily damaged or destroyed central office.

The exercises help AT&T determine more possible scenarios to prepare for the next exercise, as well as the next disaster. “After each one, we’ll have a binder of things we need to work on and investments we’ll need to make to be even more prepared,” Francis said. “For example, we were moving a trailer to a site for an exercise, and in the process, the trailer had a small accident with another vehicle and was damaged. Stuff like that is bound to happen during a disaster, and now we know the best way to fix it, and it’s part of our preparations. We want to be thrown curveballs during our exercises so that when a disaster happens we’re as prepared as we can be.”

Last year, AT&T announced that the NDR team consolidated wireless, wired and backbone network recovery capabilities, enabling AT&T to bring an integrated approach to disaster recovery that helps ensure the flow of both wireless and wired communications during times of need.

During the past 15 years, AT&T has invested more than $500 million in its NDR program, which includes specially trained managers, engineers and technicians from across the United States, as well as a fleet of more than 300 self-contained equipment trailers and support vehicles that house the same equipment and components as an AT&T data-routing or voice-switching center. Members participate in several recovery exercises each year to sharpen and practice their skills using the disaster recovery equipment and processes.

The NDR team also includes a single national security emergency preparedness management team, which works directly with federal, state and local government agencies to prepare disaster response strategies and coordinate recovery efforts.

“An integrated federal, state, local and tribal approach to disaster emergency plans is essential,” said Rex Whitacre, chief of IT operations, IT directorate for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Whitacre delivered the keynote address at the AT&T Business Continuity Forum July 14, which was held in concert with the NDR exercises.

“Regional emergency communications working groups are planning and coordinating bodies that provide a forum to assess and address the survivability, sustainability, operability and interoperability of emergency communications at all government levels,” Whitacre said. “Clearly knowing and delineating disaster response team responsibilities is critical for success.”

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