The Social Superstorm

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Like many of you, I have been glued to CNN, watching pictures of Sandy’s devastation and marveling at the pluck of survivors. In addition to the ravaged coastlines and devastated infrastructure, the storm took its toll on the web too, knocking more than a few websites offline. In addition to its own outage, the Huffington post noted that NY gossip site Gawker, Gizmodo, Lifehacker and BuzzFeed all experienced downtime due to flooded servers or crippled connectivity. Here’s how GigaOm breaks down the stressed infrastructure:

◦  “There were sporadic issues with undersea cable Atlantic Crossing-2 (or AC-2), sources said. These cables are the main data lifelines between continents.

◦   Telx reported that most of its New York and New Jersey data centers were on generator power as of 9:30 a.m. EDT.

◦  As feared, 75 Broad Street, which houses several data centers in the low-lying Zone A of Manhattan, was severely impacted, affecting Internap, Peer 1 and other providers.

◦  INIT7, a Swiss provider of IPv6 infrastructure, was affected by a storm-related power outage at Equinix’ 8th Avenue facility in Manhattan.  The company also reported connectivity issues to Miami and Los Angeles that have since been resolved.

◦  Equinix reported widespread issues with its data centers in the areas around NYC, but said they all have 48 hours of fuel.

◦    A Navisite data center in Manhattan’s Zone A is also running on generators. It has refueled and has enough to last 72 hours and will refuel as needed.”

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Another major thread in the post-Sandy coverage has been the role of social media. According to CBSNews.com, “The social analytics firm Topsy reported nearly 3.5 million tweets with the hashtag #sandy in the last 24 hours. Instagram's chief executive officer Kevin Systrom told the Associated Press that about 10 pictures per second were being uploaded to Instagram with the hashtag #sandy. Facebook reported that the 10 words and phrases used during the height of the storm were all Sandy related. Topping the list were the words: Sandy, hurricane, Hurricane Sandy, stay safe, be safe and storm.” And Instagram users told the sotry of Sandy through #instacane.

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Does all this change how authorities manage disaster response? Gartner’s Andrea Di Maio argues “no”:

“…when the water levels dropped and life returned to normal, authorities were left with unanswered questions about how to incorporate all this exciting and important stuff into their strategies and their normal course of business.

The simple answer is that they can’t and they shouldn’t. Social media can serve an important purpose when something extraordinary happens. When we all stop chatting about sport results, or favorite actors, or how to bake, and feel compelled to collect and relay information that can help other people, then it is time for authorities to join the chatter, search for patterns, use this additional and powerful channel.”

Here’s hoping that our friends and family on the East Coast continue to recover.