How data centers prepare for big storms

In the wake of the enormous Winter Storm Jonas that hit the east coast of the United States hard, leaving roads inaccessible for days and almost 30 people dead, many data center facilities are reexamining their emergency and natural disaster procedures. Disaster preparation and recovery is one of the most important considerations when it comes to data center facility design. Here are the ways that data centers prepare for big storms.

Review emergency plans

Emergencies happen – but when was the last time you actually reviewed your plan of action? It is vital to go over all emergency procedures BEFORE a storm hits so that staff is prepared for whatever may be coming.

"Leading up to an event, we review our preparation checklists, emergency action plan, and contingency plans with all data center essential personnel," said Scott Davis, executive VP and CTO at DuPont Fabros Technology.

Test and refuel backup generators

One of the biggest concerns in a massive storm isn't the damage it causes directly to infrastructure, but rather the power outages and operational disruption. To prevent this, facilities must keep backup power generators in working order and make sure they have plenty of fuel.

"The most important precautionary measure is to make sure the generator fuel tanks are full, since utility interruptions are a likely possibility," said Asa Donohugh, director of property operations at Digital Realty Trust. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, fuel trucks were diverted and roads were earmarked for emergency vehicles, which left data centers without a reliable route for extra gas for backup generators.

Stock up on supplies — and not just food

As was the case with Winter Storm Jonas, major environmental events can leave the roads inaccessible. Centers should have supplies for employees to stay comfortably in the facility for the duration of the storm, days if needed. Food, water, blankets, cots and first-aid kits are required.

"We've brought in extra food and provisions," said Bill Dougherty, senior VP and CTO at RagingWire. "We have food, showers, and cots, and some portion of our staff will likely stay onsite for the duration."

But more than just food, operational supplies are important to make sure that if something breaks down, it can be easily patched if needed.

"You talk to your suppliers about critical components that could potentially fail and make sure they have those extra parts on hand, and make sure you have them at the site," explains Jason Kiser, senior director of operations for 365 Data Centers. Kiser detailed how his company was equipping its facilities in the affected areas with extra hardware and UPS units, not just living supplies and generators

All hands on deck

"We have staffing contingency plans in place for facilities, data center operations, and security staff at these facilities," said Jim Reinhart, COO of QTS Realty Trust. Since data integrity is mission critical to so many institutions, it makes sense to keep redundant staff on-hand.

Keep customers and venders in the loop

Even if a major storm is hitting your area, your customers and vendors may not be affected if they reside outside of the zone impacted. This makes it important to communicate clearly and give regular updates throughout the storm so that you can set expectations.

"We've communicated our plans to our customers and encouraged those who have staff onsite to make similar arrangements and coordinate with us," said Dougherty. This also means putting vendors, including ones related to snow removal, on standby.

Inspect and maintain a facility

Make sure all drains are free from debris and any cracks in foundations are patched. Keep an eye on the integrity of roofs, particularly if there is a large amount of snow in the forecast.

At Pergravis, we've developed services that help enterprises manage their data center operations. From data center consulting and design to maintenance, cooling and mission critical operational support, Pergravis can help your company maximize its resiliency and safeguard against crises. Contact us today to learn more about our data center solutions operations.