On Jan. 29, 2009, a deadly ice storm hit northern Arkansas, leaving 300,000 citizens without power for as long as three weeks.
With telephone lines covered by up to three inches of ice, the only method of communication in many parts of the state was the Arkansas Wireless Information Network, a $75 million digital radio network. Based on Motorola gear, the network provides interoperable voice communication for 15,000 police, fire and other emergency response officials throughout the state.
"During the ice storm, which impacted over 30 counties across the north part of our state, AWIN was the only form of communications," says Claire Bailey, CTO of Arkansas.
AWIN lost one of its 30 wireless towers during the storm, but the rest of the system kept working, thanks to oil-powered backup generators that state officials kept fueled and running.
With landline and cellular networks down, state officials loaned AWIN radios to ambulance companies so they could communicate with nearby hospitals. In one case, a man having a heart attack needed to be transported 80 miles to a hospital that could care for him.
"The doctors and nurses traveling with the patient were able to communicate with the hospital using AWIN radios," says Penny Rubow, AWIN program director. "AWIN literally saved the man's life."
Bailey credits the state's AWIN team with regular monitoring and maintenance of the network, which ensured its outstanding performance during the ice storm. But she also says the state got lucky, in that most of its towers were not covered in ice.
Arkansas is upgrading the radio network with additional backup mechanisms in case one or more towers are knocked out in the future.
Pay as You Go
Not interested in buying and maintaining a tape-backup solution? Then join the growing number of organizations that are outsourcing their data backups.
Managed-services firm DS3 DataVaulting provides offsite backup for file servers, databases and PCs. The company installs an appliance on the client's network and handles all backups.
"There's a lot of interest in state and local agencies getting data safely out of the locality in an affordable fashion," says Stacy Hayes, co-founder and vice president of operations for DS3 DataVaulting.
Greg Cronk, IT director for Alexander County, N.C., chose the DS3 DataVaulting service after a continuity of operations planning exercise revealed serious problems with the county's tape-based system. Alexander County spends about $2,500 a month for 600 gigabytes of storage through the DS3.
The service is useful for all types of IT disasters, from hurricanes and wildfires to server failures and deleted files. Alexander County hasn't yet suffered a disaster, but it has relied on the service in response to human error.
"We had one user whose Quicken database got corrupted," Cronk says. "We went to the DS3 DataVaulting system and recovered that file in 14 seconds."
"We process between 80,000 and 150,000 pages per month of various public records, from police records to minutes."
-- Jim McKenney, senior systems analyst, city of Kent, Wash.
"We had a complete failure of our court system database, and we had to restore from the nightly backups."
-- Alexias Anderson, IT manager, city of Clemson, S.C.
"Centralized backup takes up less than 10 percent of my time to deal with it."
-- Joe Reyes, IT supervisor, Cameron County, Texas
By the Numbers
Number of major disaster declarations by the states to the Federal Emergency Management Administration this year through May 30
Estimated damage caused by Hurricane Ike
Number of tornadoes reported in the United States through June 1 of this year
Number of Santa Barbara, Calif., residents who were evacuated from their homes because of the Jesusita wildfires in May
Number of feet above flood level that the Red River crested on March 27 in Fargo, N.D.