By Carol Wilson
Mar 17, 2006
AT&T doesn't normally train for disasters when "it's 75 degrees and
sunny outside," according to Ken Smith, team lead of AT&T's Network
Disaster Recovery unit.
But next week, the unit will make an exception, putting its 16 years
of disaster recovery experience on exhibit as part of the TelecomNext
trade show in Las Vegas. The company will have 20 of the 150
self-contained trailers it uses in real-life disaster recovery on
display at the trade show and will run a demonstration that shows part
of what goes on behind-the-scenes at AT&T four times a year, when the
company does its real disaster recovery training.
Begun in the early "90s, AT&T's disaster recovery training program is
unique in the industry, Smith said, because of the resources it
devotes to preparing on a national scale for almost any type of
disaster, manmade or natural. The company houses the 150 trailers and
other NDR vehicles as well as another 250 trailers that provide backup
and logistical support in four undisclosed locations around the
country, ready to mobilize at a moment's notice, as they did in the
fall for 2005 for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The main trailers are designed provide full Central Office
functionality with everything from Class 5 switching to digital
cross-connect, ATM and frame relay gear and electrical power
equipment. More importantly, however, the response effort can be
configured to provide exactly the capability of the specific CO
affected by the disaster, Smith said.
"We have proprietary software developed by our labs that contains
information about every one of our AT&T COs," he said. "For example,
for Jacksonville, Fla., [our team] can tell me what is in the office,
what trailers I would need, the closest trailers stored, and all of
the cabling needed to recover that office. That allows me to show up
at a site and recover an office, regardless of the size, within seven
days or less."
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, AT&T
had its NDR trailers up and running in New Jersey within 48 hours to
replace the switch it lost under the collapsing towers, Smith said.
AT&T also has emergency communications vehicles that it supplies to
local emergency services personnel to help them maintain their
communications. In response to Hurricane Katrina, the company provided
five such vehicles - its maximum - for the first time ever, Smith
"Normally, when we see a situation developing, like Katrina, we will
have two vehicles in position ready to deploy - one for us and one for
emergency services," he said. "For Katrina, we deployed all five for
the first time."
Among other services provided was the capability for local law
enforcement to check on the prior records of individuals arrested
while looting, to determine if they had previous criminal histories
and should be held.
AT&T puts its NDR capabilities to use for its corporate customers as
well, doing disaster recovery assessments for them, to determine how
prepared they are in case of major problems.
In Las Vegas, AT&T will have a total of 29 trailers, including its
command center, a Lucent 5ESS class 5 switch, digital cross connect
capability, other technology trailers and those providing power and
other support. The company will be conducting tours and demonstrations
of its disaster recovery capability.
"My hope is that they walk away understanding that AT&T takes
reliability very seriously and has probably the best disaster
recovering program in the industry," Smith said. "Whether they are an
AT&T customer or they are not, they can ask themselves about their
company's disaster recovery program. Individual customers need to ask
themselves about their own plan. We have seen the devastation that can
AT&T's NDR includes both full-time workers and other AT&T employees
who have other jobs in addition to disaster recovery. While the
program is a major financial investment, Smith considers it to be
"You either pay it up front and then you recover, or if you don't pay
it up front, you wind up paying later," he said.
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