States, vendors prepare for hurricane season

The official start of Hurricane Season 2009 saw Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Alabama Governor Bob Riley, President Barack Obama and other regional officials issuing words of warning and support in preparation for the next hurricane strikes. But state and federal officials aren’t the only ones marking the beginning of hurricane season. Government contractors, offering infrastructure network, disaster relief and database back-up solutions have also joined in the conversation.

Among the contractors with proven records during hurricanes and similar “weather events” are Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), SunGuard and Verizon.

ACS has worked with state and local governments in three main areas in just the last year, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP); grant management for residential rebuilding; and Disaster Food Stamp distribution.

“ACS is well-positioned to help in times of emergency because our solutions can be quickly implemented and can adapt to rapidly changing needs,” said Joseph Doherty, executive vice president and group president of ACS Government Solutions Group.

In the past, ACS has provided critical support and cost-saving innovation for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP) by enabling pharmacies to fill prescriptions at negotiated market rates for those without health insurance living in, or evacuated from, disaster areas. In 2008 the program filled more than 30,000 prescriptions.

During hurricanes Katrina and Rita, ACS provided grant management for the Small Rental Property Program, as well as a first-of-its-kind hurricane recovery program for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

As a leader in benefits transfers, ACS has also worked with Louisiana’s state Department of Social Services (DSS) to support the Disaster Food Stamp program by establishing a customer service center in the wake of hurricane Katrina.

“Our experiences in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav have demonstrated that ACS is an operations partner to government agencies ready to help in tough times,” Mr. Doherty said.

As has been seen in recent storms, like Katrina and Rita, communication infrastructure is one of the most vital services government provides during, and in the aftermath of, a devastating storm. Verizon wireless also announced recently that it has prepared for the upcoming hurricane season by investing more than $70 million in network improvements in and around the Montgomery, AL area. The wireless provider has prepared for the potential storms with an emergency response plan, command centers and mobile technology, a spokesperson said.

“We’re constantly evaluating what we can do to better prepare for a major weather event, how to maintain service during the event, and how to quickly effect repairs when and if network damage occurs,” said Mike Poling, Verizon senior vice president for network operations, in a statement.

Verizon says it can keep land line customers connected even when the power has gone out, if the customer has a wired, not cordless, phone. “Our network, construction, repair and operations teams have coped with just about every conceivable weather situation and post-storm crisis that nature can create,” said Stephen Butera, director of business continuity planning for Verizon Services Operations.

In the event of a massive storm, database back-up systems may prove to be the only way state and local governments, as well as private sector business, can make sure their critical information survives. SunGard Availability Services, a provider of disaster recovery and managed IT services, has also just released SunGard Secure2Disk, a new disk-based, online backup and recovery solution for organizations looking to improve the reliability of both operational backup and off-site recovery of their IT systems. “With Secure2Disk, customer data is routinely routed to a secure, off-site SunGard recovery facility,” said John Lindeman, vice president of product management at SunGard Availability Services.