Collaboration is key to future disaster preparedness

In this edition of Voices of the Industry, Melissa Reali-Elliot, Digital Marketing Manager, Data Centers, for Kohler, discusses why collaborative efforts to learn from past disasters and create new preparedness models are critical for the data center industry.

Melissa Reali-Elliott, Digital Marketing Manager, Data Centers, Kohler

Hurricane season is upon us. Many of you know that while I work for Kohler, headquartered in Wisconsin, I come from Florida where hurricane season is a frequent threat. While the season officially started on June 1, we’re not used to seeing them that early, so a named storm last week was a bit of a surprise. And as we have seen in recent years with all forms of natural disasters, geography has not been such a reliable predictor of the extreme weather anomalies we have faced. Some of the disasters that have recently affected our industry were not common to the region in which they occurred. Weather-related disasters have also become more frequent and more extreme, with a hurricane season so active in 2020 that we ran out of names and had to switch to the Greek alphabet.

In the past two years alone, data centers have been hit by extreme weather conditions, from floods in Australia to hurricanes in New York, ice storms in Texas and droughts in Taiwan. Natural disasters are becoming increasingly difficult and unpredictable. Add in unknown issues like the fires in Paris or man-made issues including system attacks literally everywhere, and it’s easy to start worrying a bit about what’s going to happen next. Our industry is used to dealing with disasters and we operate in a way that builds resilience from the start.

We are a cautious industry when it comes to trusting new technologies and practices. It helped us weather the storm (pun totally intentional). In many of these cases, the data centers mostly pulled through, which only speaks to their preparedness efforts, but it also says a lot about luck. As we see, this will not always be enough to cope with the extremes that we are beginning to experience.

But enough sadness and misfortune. We are also a relational industry! Our ability to network and collaborate is embedded in what we do.

Take the example of sustainable development efforts. We all know that we all need to take action and that we need to share best practices for the good of the world. I love what iMasons is doing with its new climate accord – bringing together so many organizations committed to transparency in their sustainability efforts. I believe the same level of commitment to transparency is needed when it comes to disaster recovery. After all, sustainability and resilience to natural disasters are rooted in a desire to understand, plan for, tolerate and, at best, enhance our natural world. In doing what is right for Mother Nature, we should apply similar principles of transparency, whether to create positive impact or to undo harm.

When a site goes down, everyone naturally wonders what the main cause was and if it could have been avoided. Often, after a disaster, all we hear are whispers once it’s too late: “their sprinkler system didn’t turn on” or “the diesel trucks couldn’t reach in time”. Even worse are the rumors and speculations! “Maybe they were hacked?” Among operators, there could be suspicion of what went wrong and a doubling of efforts to ensure their own facility is better prepared. But there is no database or records, rarely a firm record of what led to the system failure. Some announce their intention to publish data on the causes years after the event. How then can we learn from each other and meet the needs of end users, who all simply want connected systems that work reliably?

There is this incredible psychological effect after a disaster where we remember that we are not alone in the world. Neighbors who have never seen each other gather and shake hands. Unfortunately, this effect does not last; we’re getting back to business as usual pretty quickly. And it’s not isolated in residential areas. We saw the same thing in the data center industry, for example, after Hurricane Sandy hit New York and adjacent data centers shared diesel fuel supplies and built scaffolding to maintain their generators out of water.

The disaster recovery mindset is actually a fascinating process from a psychological standpoint. There is a heroic or altruistic phase where everyone comes together to do what is necessary; a honeymoon phase, where everyone continues to be friendly and supportive; then a phase of disillusion where aid is cut off and we realize we are alone in the recovery efforts and begin to rebuild. But there is one more step in the process: it all culminates in a restoration phase where we start thinking about preparing for the future.

If you’ve been through a bad storm, you’ve seen it in action, and as I mentioned, it’s not just limited to our personal psychological responses. The industrial world must operate with private entities that cannot have long-term collaborative efforts on internal operations. The ways to best deal with a disaster are siloed, making it harder for everyone to prepare for the next occurrence. Who’s to say we can’t attach the goals to the heroic phase and use the desire to help others make their preparedness plans?

We need collaborative efforts to learn from past disasters and thereby build new models of preparedness. Disasters themselves are nothing new, and although they seem to be getting more and more extreme and unpredictable, they may not need to have such extreme consequences.

Melissa Reali-Elliot, Digital Marketing Manager, Data Centers, for Kohler. Contact them to learn more about their data center solutions.