Lessons We Can All Learn from Hurricane Sandy

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It’s been some weeks since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in parts of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, and it never ceases to amaze me how the natural world can so easily upset our fragile existence. Just the day before Hurricane Sandy was due to strike the US mainland, Bruce Colquhoun and I had made our way to Miami, Florida, for the Energy Buyers conference, an event we’ve attended and enjoyed a number of times. To the organizers and our dismay, attendance was almost 40% down compared with previous years, with travel essentially closed down for two major client sources:  the Latin American energy buyers and transportation companies, as well as their counterparts on the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to New York New York to Florida.

While in Miami, we tuned in to see the devastation that was wrought in Jamaica, where the storm first hit, and the market was abuzz with what was going to happen in New York. The question loomed over whether New York was prepared or not. It was alarming to watch the story progress from when we initially arrived in Miami, through to our departure. While in the departures lounge at MIA, we watched news footage of the pending disaster. At that time the hurricane had been downgraded to a severe tropical storm and Miami was spared its devastation. So, as we departed MIA we took what might happen in New York with a grain of salt.

We flew from one conference to another, and arrived in Chicago for the FIA Expo 2012. Similarly at FIA, attendance suffered as futures industry participants from New York, a large trading hub, were largely absent, as well as those from Northern regions. As FIA progressed so too did Sandy, and as it made landfall in New York, this time the damage was more sustained. Boroughs were totally flooded in, the subways and transportation systems were inoperable, and there was extensive damage all down the seaboard. It took JKF two days to get back up and running, while the subways and transportation systems operated a disrupted service even seven days after. For many people it took more than two weeks to have their power restored. The estimated cost of Hurricane Sandy to New York is $42billion.

The ZE lens on the marketplace is typically from the soft infrastructure side. What Sandy brought to light for us is the vulnerability of large organizations in the face of natural disasters and also that disaster recovery may be in place for some things but it is rarely fully thought out. Some of the critical functions we depend on as a market may not always be as fail-safe as we think. A case in point is the CME Group who were forced to close the NYMEX and trading floor and experienced difficulties in re-instating its energy market. ZE has plants that we serve on a cloud basis and we were heartened that our clients availing of that service were able to recover rapidly and do their work that depends on our systems.

Like many things, Sandy highlighted how complex and interconnected our world is; an event that happens in one place can have sweeping business and economic consequences in other places. Often, where we think we have the correct recovery in place, it may not be truly recoverable. While Sandy was a tragic disaster, it does derive infrastructure lessons. From our perspective, there are methods to resolve data criticality. There are ways to protect our corporations and markets to ensure data is available and processes that depend on that data continue. Surely for every industry there are similar lessons to be learned. Our hearts go out to all that were affected by Sandy. We can only hope for the best for all.

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