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What Sandy Taught Time Warner Cable

ATLANTA — Rule No. 1 when putting together an emergency-preparedness plan — whether planning for hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics, cyber-attacks, data losses or any other major crisis: Make plans on a pretty day.

“Do these things on blue-sky days,” Brian Allen, chief security officer for Time Warner Cable, said last week at a Cable-Tec Expo luncheon keynote as he took attendees through photos and video of the crisis that was Superstorm Sandy.

One of the major challenges the MSO faced during Sandy, which struck its New York City system last Oct. 30: Getting fuel. In bracing for the storm, Time Warner located six fueling stations, each with a carrying capacity of 1,000 gallons.

But when the fuel industry remained out of commission, lacking power to pull gasoline into tankers, the MSO had to locate and commission a tanker full of gas from an outfit in Florida. Shortly thereafter, the Federa l Emergency Management Agency contacted the vendor to requisition all unaccounted-for fuel. “They gave us 15 minutes to figure out all the logistics and get it moving.”

Another major issue: Power. In a crisis like Sandy, power companies seek information about where cable consumer premises equipment is out, so they can prioritize their resources; cable seeks information about where power is being restored, so as to prioritize recovery operations. “I think it’s possible, and we’re having those conversations, that we set our maps on top of each other — but we have to do that on blue-sky days, not during a crisis.”

Just keeping batteries charged was an issue. Time Warner Cable dispatched free charging stations for its customers, and served 30,000 complimentary meals using rented food trucks. “We set up right next to the guys charging $15 to charge your phone … and pretty much put them out of business,” Allen said.

Lastly: Post-mortems are critical. Allen’s group conducted 150 post-Sandy interviews, to learn about what went right and what went wrong, and to identify gaps, so they don’t happen the next time.

“For all the employees in all the impact areas, to me, they really kicked ass on this storm,” Allen said. “There were a lot of lessons learned, and I think we’re in a really good place” for business continuity and emergency readiness, going forward.