AT&T graciously invited me to visit the site of their most recent Disaster Recovery training in Los Angeles, CA and boy was I astounded. Until yesterday I thought they would arrive in a disaster area with a van and crank up a pole with the cell phone radio equipment on the top and wallah, that was it. No sir, they have 3 levels of disaster recovery and that is just the very first though it’s more complicated than that.
First is the van with a basic tower and a little bandwidth, then comes a big truck with a great deal more bandwidth. Bandwidth being the amount of calls/SMS and data that it had handle at one time. Then comes a giant semi or 2 or even 3 and if it is a big enough disaster they’ll roll up to almost a dozen semi trucks and trailers in and set up a small city. Yesterday I saw at least 9 semi truck trailers, a few smaller trailers, some off road vehicles with cell antennas built on to them and some medium sized trucks with more satellite dishes then a small cable network.
I’ll get back to the amazing technology in a moment, I want to tell you how this relates to small businesses. After the attack on 9/11 AT&T lost a major node that was in the basement of one of the towers, this took out much of the communication in the region for it’s customers, business and consumer. There’s redundancy but this was a high capacity office that was destroyed and it handled a great deal of network traffic. As the story goes, the AT&T disaster recovery team commandeered (legally) an empty lot across the Hudson and set up shop. They spliced into an internet hub and within hours they had basic voice service for their teams and within a day or so for the first responders. Then came the rest of the community a few days later. As catastrophic and horrific as 9/11 was life had to go on. Businesses had to reopen, grocery stores HAD to be able to sell food and average small businesses needed to continue to work. This is where the disaster recovery teams played a role for small businesses and the entire surrounding community. Twitter didn’t exist and neither did Facebook but many of us still relied on internet access and phone service. AT&T’s Disaster Recovery team allowed that part of New York and New Jersey to do their best to get back onto their feet.
The technology I saw yesterday was amazing, there were at least 9 giant semi trailers parked with the biggest fibreoptic cables I’ve ever seen coming out of each of them, well except for the shop truck. This truck had a metal shop with enough equipment to stock a small hardware store.
There was also a hazmat trailer with a full crew. I watched one guy suit up in the neon green/yellow suit with a respirator. They told me sometimes they’ll wear a vest with ice packs in it so they can attempt to stay cool. These guys don’t have easy jobs but when there was a chlorine spill next to a key AT&T node these guys suited up and kept service running until the fire department made the scene safe again.
All in all I had an eye opening day and learned a lot about how AT&T is prepared for disasters. These folks are all volunteers and they told me they do it for the people and because they love what they do. They just want to keep your life whether it be your personal life or your business life running smoothly and that’s why they do this.
On behalf of Phone.com I just want to publicly thank the AT&T disaster recovery teams. They may not be the first responders but they are still helping save lives by keeping us connected.