SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2013: Lessons Learned From Hurricane Sandy

Time Warner Cable’s Brian Allen Says Planning Ahead For Emergencies Is Rule Number One

Rule number one when putting together an emergency preparedness plan – whether planning for hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics, cyber attacks, data losses, or any other major crisis – is to make that plan before the crisis occurs.

“Do these things on blue sky days,” luncheon keynote Brian Allen, chief security officer for Time Warner Cable (pictured above. Photo credit: Kaylinn Gilstrap), said here Tuesday as he took attendees through photos and video of the crisis that was Superstorm Sandy, last November.

One of the major challenges faced during Sandy: Getting fuel. In bracing for the storm, Time Warner located six fueling stations (one of which is display in SCTE Central), each with a carrying capacity of 1,000 gallons.

But when the fuel industry remained out of commission, lacking power to pull gasoline into tankers, the MSO had to locate and commission a tanker full of gas from an outfit in Florida.  Shortly thereafter, FEMA contacted the vendor to requisition all unaccounted-for fuel. “They gave us 15 minutes to figure out all the logistics and get it moving.”

Fuel, or the lack of it, was also an issue for employees and contractors. “They couldn’t get fuel, and we were dependent on them for recovery.”

Another major issue: Power. In a crisis like Sandy, power companies seek information about where cable consumer premises equipment is out, so they can prioritize their resources; cable seeks information about where power is being restored, so as to prioritize recovery operations. “I think it’s possible, and we’re having those conversations, that we set our maps on top of each other – but we have to do that on blue sky days, not during a crisis.”

And then there’s the matter of helping people to keep their battery-operated things working, at times when electrical power isn’t an option. To that end, Time Warner Cable dispatched free charging stations, for its customers, and served 30,000 complimentary meals using rented food trucks. “We set up right next to the guys charging $15 to charge your phone … and pretty much put them out of business,” Allen said.

Securing “GET” and “WPS” cards went a long way in keeping employees in contact with one another when phone lines were clogged. “GET” stands for “Government Emergency Telecom” services, and “WPS” for “Wireless Priority Services.” How it works:  “You register your key folks, meaning people who are responsible for recovery of critical infrastructure. That part worked really well.”

Lastly: Post-mortems are critical. Allen’s group conducted 150 post-Sandy interviews, to learn about what went right, what went wrong, and to identify gaps, so they don’t happen the next time.

“For all the employees in all the impact areas, to me, they really kicked ass on this storm,” Allen said. “There were a lot of lessons learned, and I think we’re in a really good place” for business continuity and emergency readiness, going forward.