By Marc L. Songini
AUGUST 31, 2005
As floodwaters continued to flow into New Orleans today and officials
in the Gulf states predicted a death toll from Hurricane Katrina that
could reach into the thousands, companies that were forced to evacuate
by the storm struggled to get their operations up and running
Among those scrambling to stay in business is Integrated Data Systems
Inc., a New Orleans-based integrator and hosting services provider.
"I don't think anyone has ever coped with anything like this before.
The magnitude is pretty enormous," said Robert Leithman, president of
Integrated Data Systems.
Leithman -- who left the city along with most of its residents ahead
of the storm -- said by cell phone that he and his staff are in the
process of getting his customers back online. The 18-person company,
which has backup facilities in several cities in the U.S., now has
basic Web access, instant messaging and Hotmail e-mail capabilities
and is looking to get the back-office systems of its customers live.
Among those companies is New Orleans-based Tabasco sauce maker
McIlhenny Co., for which Integrated Data Systems set up a temporary
Web site for customers and e-mail access for employees.
"We've got them ripping along right now," Leithman said today. "Things
are far from being back to normal, but at least were getting the
semblance of it."
The main problem for companies in the region is that connectivity and
telecommunications are down. "Even with a good plan, which we had,
there were still some things we didn't expect, [such] the lack of the
ability to communicate." After Katrina hit the Louisiana, Mississippi
and Alabama coasts on Monday, communications virtually ceased. While
some cell phone users were able to make outgoing calls, they couldn't
receive calls. That forced company employees to buy prepaid cell phone
cards for incoming messages.
Even before the storm approached Integrated Data Systems had disaster
recovery plans in place, with procedures based on lessons learned
after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Among those lessons: Make
sure company assets and hardware are distributed geographically. The
9/11 attacks taught the company, for instance, to have its backup
tapes located in different places, Leithman said. "This was not as
shocking [as 911], but it's a lot larger in scope and size," he said.
One of the company's hosting centers -- near the stricken New Orleans
Superdome, where refugees took shelter from the hurricane -- is
inaccessible. Another, located in a bunker in nearby Metairie, La., is
live -- but still lacks connectivity, said Leithman. He plans to have
it checked on, but to communicate via phone requires driving miles
away to get a line.
"Even the best-laid plans go awry really quick," said Leithman, who
had to leave for Florida on Saturday. The trip, which normally takes
about five hours, took 15 as residents of the area fled the
approaching storm. Not everyone at Integrated Data Systems was able to
get far enough away from the storm. Leithman noted that one company
engineer, who thought he was safe in a location that would be "high
and dry," had his roof ripped off.
"The most interesting thing about the process is [that] first, people
are in shock," said Leithman. "Their houses are gone, their lives torn
up, and they're worried about their families and things they should be
worried about. Then they come out and say, 'I have to have a job, and
what do I do?' We're able to help them. In the meantime, we're not
thinking of ourselves. It's helpful not have time to think about it."
And even as people struggle to come to grips with what has happened in
and around New Orleans, Leithman said he is already looking ahead --
trying to learn the lessons from the ongoing disaster.
Next time, for instance, he said he plans to buy satellite phones to
ensure that communications remain in place. During an earlier
hurricane, Integrated Data Systems had rented satellite phones at the
last minute. Katrina didn't give the company time to get them.
"I promise to own them next time around. They'll be in our
possession," he said.
Elsewhere in the region, companies such as Harrah's Entertainment
Inc., which had three casinos in the region -- one in New Orleans, one
in Biloxi, Miss., and one in Gulfport, Miss. -- shut down operations
last weekend. In doing so, the Las Vegas-based gaming company moved
processing for several key systems from a regional data center in
Biloxi to primary data centers in Tennessee and New Jersey, said Tim
Stanley, senior vice president and CIO at Harrah's.
Systems that were rerouted include hotel, casino, events, ticketing
and convention systems, reservations and VIP call centers, the IT help
desk, regional data and file servers, e-mail servers, and some network
and routing infrastructure, said Stanley. Back-office operations such
as finance and human resources were already centralized in New Jersey
or in Nevada.
The company also has a variety of systems located at the affected
properties that can't be operated remotely, including slot and table
game systems, sports books, point-of-sale systems, local telephony,
security and desktop systems -- "not that those really matter, as the
properties are not open," said Stanley. He added that they aren't
expected to reopen "for some time."
Tom Hoffman contributed to this report.
Sept 16-18th, 2005
San Diego, California