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May 24, 2013 -
Hurricane Sandy, the second costliest hurricane in United States history, is an object lesson in how the best-laid contingency plans can be shredded in no time when an extreme weather event hits. The storm has spurred a new way of thinking about data center resiliency.
One success story involved a company that took prior action to hold the water back. People welded doors on the lower level so that water couldn't get in, and built a wall in front of the fuel tank. But these success stories were relatively few and far between. In many cases, the flooding caused serious problems in data centers.
During the storm, water rose 13 feet above sea level, which caused New York City to expand its flood plain area and redraw its flood maps. A lot of basements in multitenant data centers were flooded, and that is where much of the critical infrastructure was located.
New York City code requires fuel to be stored at the bottom of buildings, which is why fuel pumps, tanks, and generators, were in the basement. While some facilities have generators on the roof, fuel pumps and fuel tanks got knocked over, and they couldn't bring fuel from the basement to the roof. UPS and transfer systems at higher levels didn't do much good when basements had floor-to-ceiling flooding.
There were similar problems in smaller data centers in high-rise buildings downtown, where pumps wouldn't function and power feeds weren't watertight. When water filled up basements, the oil tanks lifted off their carriages and piping connections to fuel oil were broken. Trucks came in with package pumping systems that were physically connected to the fuel oil risers in buildings to run the generators.