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Hurricane Season and Data Centers: What to Know in 2020

By: Kayla Matthews on June 1, 2020

Since hurricanes can cause power outages, flooding and other challenges, data center operators understand they must plan for hurricane season.

This year, that timespan runs between June 1 and Nov. 30 for Atlantic storms. Without proper preparation, data centers and severe weather comprise an unfortunate combination. Evidence also suggests that the 2020 season could provide new obstacles to overcome. 

Forecasters Predict an Above-Average Season of Activity

Facility managers that have not yet made hurricane data center preparations this year should avoid further delays. That's because forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center anticipate a busy Atlantic hurricane season ahead. 

The outlook shows a 60% chance of an above-average season. There's also a 30% likelihood of a near-normal period and only a 10% chance of experiencing less activity than usual this year. More specifically, weather experts expect 13-19 named storms for 2020 — weather events with winds of 39 mph or higher. 

Steps that data centers managers or owners can take to get their buildings ready include:

  • Implementing an N+1 redundancy plan — Having a generator, plus an additional emergency power source to use if needed.
  • Installing an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with a surge suppression feature — This setup provides battery backup power, usually for a short period until a generator takes over.
  • Operating with continual data protection (CDP) — It provides synchronous or near-synchronous data replication, supporting business continuity.
  • Planning to reroute data to alternate locations if needed due to the threat of a hurricane or other disaster — A geo-diverse data center brand is substantially better equipped to take this action than one with facilities in a single region. 

This is not an exhaustive list of preparatory measures related to data centers and hurricanes. Providers with further questions about how to get ready should consult with a company that has extensive experience in helping clients with disaster preparedness. 

The COVID-19 Pandemic Could Complicate Hurricane Season

As local officials map out their hurricane responses, many worry about the extra hardships caused by the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The communications network for disaster response crews is one area of concern. The U.S. government contracts with AT&T for a service called FirstNet, which has a dedicated spectrum for first responders. Hospitals and mobile COVID-19 testing sites are using FirstNet trucks to boost the surrounding networks.

AT&T says it's ready for hurricane season but acknowledges difficulties. For example, social distancing requirements make it harder for emergency repair crews to fix damaged infrastructure and cause slowdowns. Moreover, if a fierce hurricane and COVID-19 spike coincide, those events could put communications companies under tremendous strain.

If data center operators experience disruptions in service, it may take longer than usual to get everything fixed. Thus, it's arguably more important than ever to have internal disaster response plans at these facilities. 

Another possible issue is that shelter-in-place recommendations could clash with the need to evacuate due to an approaching hurricane. People leave their homes when it's not safe to stay in them and arrive at typically crowded emergency facilities, where people sleep on cots in large rooms like gymnasiums and line up for buffet-style meals.

The possible problems associated with emergency shelters do not directly affect data centers. However, they illustrate how there may be some unexpected consequences connected to data centers and severe weather. Thinking about what could happen will help operations prepare for knock-on effects. 

Hurricanes Are Becoming Ongoing Threats

Many data center operators now realize that extreme weather events are not once-in-a-career occurrences, but that they could happen year after year. Managers must make building-related hurricane data center enhancements, such as preparing the structure to withstand strong winds and protecting it from flood risks. However, getting ready for adverse circumstances means evaluating staffing needs, too. 

One option for data centers operating around the country is to bring staff in from elsewhere before a storm hits. Then, local employees can focus on their families and not worry about the difficulties of trying to reach work despite impassable roads and downed trees. 

A recent study also adds legitimacy to the often-made claim that climate change is making hurricanes more severe. A team examined nearly four decades worth of hurricane satellite images. They found the storms becoming stronger on both a regional and global level. The scientists concluded that such a trend matches expectations for how the weather events would change due to global warming. 

Preparation Is Essential

This coverage highlights why readiness checklists should have sections about data centers and hurricanes. People around the world depend on these centers to remain operational, and succeeding in that goal means thinking these storms' likelihood with a "not if, but when" mindset.


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