A ‘Well-Managed’ Disaster



It wasn’t until when the lights went out on July 26 that many companies
were able to see the folly of their nonexistent, inadequate or long shelved and
forgotten business continuity and disaster recovery plan. In Mumbai, the monsoon
season took on the characteristics of a cricket season, endlessly hammering
commercial and residential subscribers. And, the already jittery financial
community handled disaster alerts, bringing new urgency to local, state and
government regulations about data protection.

The DR and the public information system during Mumbai floods went completely
haywire. The reason: no proper execution of disaster management plan by the
Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and network failure of almost all the
mobile and landline service providers. The worst hit were not only the people of
Mumbai but also the enterprises, especially banks and BPO companies.

BMC’s disaster
The municipal corporation has made many claims that though it had made all
arrangements to tackle the disaster, it could not handle it owing to
unprecedented rainfall. But the fact is BMC didn’t have the adequate
infrastructure to cope up with the crisis. BMC has drafted its modernization
plans but it’s all on papers and nothing concrete has been done so far.

Slon Station
submerged in flood following torrential rain in Mumbai

BMCs predisaster planning consists of activities such as disaster mitigation
and disaster preparedness. In view of the risk and the vulnerabilities
identified, the mitigation measures proposed have been categorized into three
sections: Infrastructure Improvement, Communication, and Public Information
Systems (PIS), which demands that people should be kept aware and informed in
the entire cycle of disaster management from the stage of risk assessment. But
leave apart informing people, the PIS itself was not functional.

For efficient coordination and effective response, communication amongst line
departments such as BMC, police, fire brigade, municipal/government hospitals,
meteorological center and BEST is essential. This can be ensured by upgrading
the present communication system to a more efficient wireless system. But still
BMC has not given any time frame for it.

Communication failure
The telephone network in Mumbai, home to the Reserve Bank of India, Bombay
Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange, completely snapped. The power outage
on the disastrous day, coupled with floods all over, was a wake-up call for ISPs
and mobile service providers. The mobile and landline phone network showed what
they are best at.

Almost all the phone lines were down and the people were helpless and the
network was not up and running for almost 48 hours. Jayant Khosla, CEO, Bharti
Televentures, Mumbai Circle, said, "Because of our capacity and disaster
recovery planning, Airtel network performed without congestion. The rains had
minimum impact on Airtel transformers and base stations and even in power
problem areas generators made the sites fully functional."

Apart from that about 80 personnel were deployed for the maintenances of the
networks during heavy rains, he added. Airtel also deployed 25 vehicles (mobile
cell sites) in the waterlogged areas having cell sites to ensure effective
functioning of the network. Orange customers suffered as they had power back up
of only two hours on cell sites. Similarly, there was not enough power back up
on BPL and MTNL cell sites. Amidst the heavy downpour in Maharashtra, especially
in Mumbai, on July 26 and July 27, which forced the closure of the airport and
train system, Tata Teleservices Maharashtra received 22.3 mn calls and 1.65 mn
SMS, showing an increase of 37.5% and 50%, respectively. Internet connectivity
took time to be restored and VSNL is still struggling to restore connectivity in
some of the affected areas.

Call center blues
BPOs business continuity and disaster recovery plans had never been tested to
the extent they were during the floods in Mumbai. BPOs companies equipment were
not well protected and the blackout highlighted the need to further protect
computer systems, since they are increasingly tied to the company’s ability to
provide customer care. Most of the BPOs had planned for downtime scenarios of
six-hour outages, but, due to the blackout, they have decided to increase it to
48 hours.

WNS decided some time ago that it wanted to have guaranteed workstations and
office floor space for its staff in the event of a disaster in town. So it has a
business continuity plan in place. Since the disaster lasted longer, the company
moved most of its data processes to a nearby location in Pune.

Neeraj Bhargava, CEO, WNS said, "We faced two challenges, which
sometimes had elements that worked against each other. First, we had to ensure
the safety of our team. Second, we had to ensure that we keep our operations
running since our clients, many oceans apart, depended on us. Pune backup helped
immensely in making up for the Mumbai shortfall."

But TWS holding, another BPO-based at Vashi in Navi Mumbai, operated from
some other BPO company’s facility as its entire telephone network went down.
Rakesh Kaul, CEO, TWS said, "We will use their facility for some more
days." But when a catastrophe strikes, some two out of five companies fail.
Statistically, it is small and medium businesses that fail, as larger
organizations had contingency plans.

Banking chaos
Though most of bank’s computer system kept running, the customers felt the
pinch as almost 60% of the city’s ATMs went out of order. The banks are now
making sure that its suppliers have UPS systems and generators. State Bank of
India’s entire ATM network across the city was down and so were of many
others. Though power supply had been restored after sometime, there was no
network connectivity even after 48 hours of disaster. Euronet, which manages
1,200 ATMs of different banks, didn’t face much problems as it has online
disaster recovery for its clients. Euronet has set up two online DRS in Mumbai
and one in Bangalore to provide back up and mirroring of data. Loney Antony,
CEO, Euronet said, "Our ATM network was working as usual. The only problem
was with network and power supply. We are now installing UPSes of higher
capacity and are contemplating to have multiple network providers so that there
wouldn’t be any problem if something similar happens in future."

STPIs initiative
Taking serious note of the torrential outpour that put life out of gear in
Maharashtra in the past ten days, Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) is
working on an ambitious national disaster recovery management system plan. STPI
is setting up a 3,000 sq feet managed disaster recovery facility in Mumbai to
ensure that companies can maintain continuity even during times of disaster.

The STPI disaster recovery facility would back up the data for those
companies which wish to avail of the services on a chargeable basis. These would
be worked out on various package levels such as backup services, incremental
backup services, one week backup or important file backup services. Software
companies that may not have a proper disaster recovery plan in place could opt
for the various services offered by the STPI.

P Venugopal, STPI director, Mumbai and Pune, feels that since STPI enjoys a
good reputation in the industry, security would not remain such a major concern.
The recent deluge that hit Maharashtra may have propelled the STPI officials to
work on the plan at a quick pace. STPI has identified a location in Mumbai for
the facility that should be ready in six months. The objective is to set up
disaster recovery facilities in multiple locations across India. However, he
said it was too early to comment upon the locations identified for this purpose.
The idea however is to ensure that the data back up is maintained in a separate
state so that the client’s work does not suffer.

There is no real difference between natural disasters like floods and
unnatural disasters, like blackouts or terrorist attacks. There must be a plan
in place to handle any eventuality when it happens. If you have proper business
continuity plans in place, the steps are the same. There can’t be two separate
types of execution plans-little emergencies versus big emergencies. Now, in
the wake of the Black Tuesday in Mumbai, disaster recovery has suddenly become
the ‘indispensable business process.’

Rahul Gupta (With
inputs from Nanda Kasabe in Pune)

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