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PIA National President Andy Harris Operates His Agency at Ground Zero of Sandy

The agency owned by PIA National President Andrew C. Harris is located in Millstone Township, New Jersey, an area hard hit by Tropical Cyclone Sandy...
November 6, 2012

The agency owned by PIA National President Andrew C. Harris is located in Millstone Township, New Jersey, an area hard hit by Tropical Cyclone Sandy. Harris’ agency finally got power restored on the morning of Monday, November 5 – eight days after Sandy struck. Harris’ agency escaped water or structural damage and operated for that entire eight days, processing claims and serving clients, by relying on its emergency disaster plan, which worked.

“We’re still recovering from the disaster, but now we’re far enough out from it to take note of some of the lessons we’ve learned and share them with the rest of our PIA colleagues,” said Harris. He said his agency operated during the eight days on generator power, but he discovered that implementing the communications elements of his disaster plan provided extra challenges.

“As communications have become more sophisticated, our agencies have come to rely more on outsourced systems and outsourced technology people,” Harris said. “When you have to ‘cut over’ your systems to operate on generator power, it is not a simple matter of flipping one switch and everything works. We had to get our tech people in, on site, to make changes in phone lines to different carriers and restart all of our servers – we have seven servers, and they have to be restarted in sequence. They also had to reconfigure our email system.”

“When the power came back on, everything didn’t automatically go back to the normal that existed before the storm,” he said. “We had to ‘cut over’ all of our systems to come off of the emergency power and back onto regular power. This required repeating all the steps of the cut over, only in reverse. The process took four hours.”

Harris said his disaster contingency plan had specific, written instructions on how to accomplish the complex systems change-overs, but tech people onsite were still needed to deal with the unexpected. “This experience has provided some valuable lessons on how agencies use their contingency plans during actual disasters. PIA National will be sharing these lessons developed from our members’ experiences.”