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Verizon Kicks Off Disaster Recovery Drill

Carol Wilson
4/12/2010

The mid-air collision will be fictional, but the fallout very real for hundreds of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) employees involved in this week's disaster recovery exercise. Such events are annual occasions for complink 8104|Verizon Business}, but this week marks the first disaster recovery exercise that encompasses all of Verizon Telecom -- the new unit for wireline and business operations -- and Verizon Wireless operations as well.

The week-long event begins today with a simulated disaster involving a mid-air collision that sends a commercial airliner crashing into a major Verizon facility at its Ashburn, Va., corporate campus, and also causes damage to a Leesburg, Va., local phone company Central Office (CO). It continues Tuesday with simulated chlorine leak from a tanker truck that compromises a major data center at Ashburn as well, and requires Verizon's hazardous materials team to respond. Later in the week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be on hand to discuss terrorism and other network threats.

Over the course of the first two days of the week, teams from every part of Verizon, including human resources and real estate as well as network operations and IT staff, will have to respond to the rolling disaster scenarios, addressing how to move people and resources to maintain service to customers while also looking out for employees' welfare as well.

"This is the first Verizon-wide event involving the wireline and wireless businesses," says Dick Price, director of Verizon Business Continuance and Emergency Management and the executive sponsor of the Major Emergency Response Incident Team. "In this event, there are so many different groups involved that we wanted a couple of opportunities to exercise the different type of programs."

With the business continuity experts from every part of Verizon participating, the exercise is scripted to add wrinkles along the way, such as the loss of commercial power, problems with generators, and more, Price says. The idea is to have each unit of Verizon put its disaster recovery plan into place and then evaluate how the plan actually works and where changes/improvements might be needed.

For example, Price notes, the initial trigger event will force a massive evacuation of the 3,500 employees typically located at Ashburn, and force Verizon's real estate MERIT members to figure out where to relocate those individuals to keep them working.

"That doesn't just involve finding a site but also finding computers for those individuals and network connectivity," Price says.

In the Iowa floods of 2008, Verizon learned some lessons on this topic, having to move a major call center's operations from a flooded building into a local hotel ballroom, and then engage a major satellite company to provide network connectivity to that site, Price notes.

On display in Virginia will be Verizon's latest addition to its disaster recovery fleet, a 51-foot Mobile Command Center, as well as housing trailers, comfort trailers, satellite trailers, hazmat vehicles, and more, all designed to enable Verizon to independently operate following any kind of disaster, Price says. The housing and comfort facilities were added after difficult times following Katrina, when Verizon employees were forced to share cramped quarters in a Verizon CO and endure outdoor showers while working to restore service, Price adds.

This latest drill is happening against the backdrop of a major event taking place very nearby -- the International Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. The Secret Service is operating security for that and has put special criteria in place that could impact Verizon -- it has been designated as a national special security event. "We will have a whole separate team tracking that event for the 48 hours that it is underway," Price notes.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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