Maine city readies its systems for disaster

Maine city readies its systems for disaster

After havoc of 1998 storm, Saco makes sure it's prepared for the worst

By Donna Young

GCN Staff

A bitter, destructive ice storm pummeled Maine's coastal city of Saco one afternoon in late September. Cars careened on glassy streets, telecommunications choked as utility poles toppled and icy falling branches slashed power lines, compounding the city's problems.

Saco Public Works director Larry Nadeau is working with FEMA to prepare the city's systems to withstand disasters.

Luckily for the small New England town, it was only a mock storm'unlike the real one that hit the Northeast in 1998, wreaking havoc along the Eastern Seaboard from Washington, D.C., to Canada.

'Ice storms are a part of living in Maine, but we decided after the 1998 storm, we were going to be prepared the next time we got one that big,' said Larry Nadeau, Public Works director.

Saco conducted a disaster recovery workshop and simulation exercise with EverGreen Data Continuity Inc. of Newbury, Mass., to help the city prepare its systems for natural disasters, or even man-made technological disasters such as computer hackers.

Think like a business

EverGreen develops data center storage, protection and recovery plans.

'We are trying to get cities like Saco to think like a business when it comes to protecting their data,' said Ed Deveau, EverGreen's senior vice president.

The simulation exercise was conducted as a pilot program for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Project Impact: Building Disaster-Resistant Communities.

FEMA began Project Impact in 1997 as a nationwide initiative to reduce disaster damage by implementing preventive actions in communities across the country.

Steven Colman, deputy director of FEMA's Region 1 Mitigation Division, said the pilot exercise at Saco targeted the city's IT infrastructure and sought out its weak spots.

Evergreen's assessment of the Saco workshop will be presented at FEMA's National Project Impact Summit in Washington, D.C., this month.

Representatives from Saco's 14 city agencies, in addition to some local businesses, participated in the disaster simulation.

'We wanted to involve as many people as possible in the workshop,' Nadeau said. 'We want local businesses to understand how it affects them when the city's systems go down and how private businesses also need to be prepared.'

Looking for weak links

Nadeau said the project helped Saco discover what actions each agency needs to take to change weak areas in the city's systems.

'We discussed many ways to evaluate backing up our systems and how to better store documents, especially delicate information,' he said. 'We also discovered we had several old paper documents that were probably one of a kind and not documented electronically.'

Nadeau said the Public Works Department's systems are maintained separately from those at Saco's City Hall.

The department uses 450-MHz Pentium III Gateway GP6 PCs running Microsoft Windows 2000. For its servers, it uses 450-MHz Pentium II PCs with 128M of RAM, 15.7G hard drives and Windows 2000.

Bob Burns, Evergreen's chief executive officer, said a city needs to know how quickly it can recover in the event of a natural disaster or hacker attack.

'A city needs to have regular tests of power generators because power is a critical element. If it fails, all other systems will fail,' Burns said.

And, Burns said, a backup plan for a city's primary telecommunications is critical.

'A city needs to make sure it has radios and mobile communications on hand,' he said.

Because Saco is prone to flooding and other coastal storms'the city ranks seventh in the state in the amount of National Flood Insurance Program claims paid'FEMA also awarded it $30,000 to develop maps of vulnerable areas in the city.

In addition, Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif., donated ArcView 3.2 software to Saco to help with the project.

Colman said disaster preparedness for communities is the No. 1 priority right now for FEMA.

'I think the bottom line is that for every dollar spent by FEMA on community preparedness, there will be $10 saved in recovery costs,' Burns said.


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