Hurricane Sandy: A few questions for New York Stock Exchange IT guys

As I sat in the dark waiting for Hurricane Sandy to rip the roof off my house, the light from my laptop calmed my nerves. My extended-life laptop battery seems to last forever, so I decided to get some work done. Technology is great when it works, isn’t it?

The impact of Hurricane Sandy made me think of its effect on our economy and the fact that for some reason, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) decided to close down for a couple days due to the weather. The NYSE and NASDAQ are critical to our entire economy –and our economy is a major part of our national security (no money, no military). When the market closes down, it has an effect on the entire economy of the United States. The fact that the entire exchange had to close down due to a storm in the Northeast means more attention to disaster recovery planning needs to happen to protect our critical financial systems. Come on guys; it’s 2012. I can understand keeping the folks home for safety reasons, but the exchange itself should NEVER have to close because of a storm.  (By the way, my mailman braved the weather and still delivered the mail during the storm, wind, rain and all.)

The exchange runs on technology, and the technology to run the exchange should be automatically available at another location with enough geographical distance to be unaffected by the weather in the Northeast. This is the whole concept behind continuity of operations, where redundancy in both human resources and technology are always available in case of an emergency.  Based on the importance of the exchange’s availability, I’m shocked that although the technology exists (and may even be in place) to run the datacenters themselves, the politics of running the exchange in DR mode may  still not yet been fully defined, so the decision was made to simply shut it all down. Everyone knew the weather would be an issue days in advance, so what was the real reason the exchange couldn’t swap datacenters to another location and enable trading remotely? 

Check out this great Computerworld article, “Even with prep, did Wall Street's business continuity plans fail?” It seems to implicate government regulators as a main cause of the exchange shut down. The government is supposed to help, not act as a roadblock. Why weren’t these issues discussed or planned for BEFORE the storm hit?

What’s up, guys? Who gave the order to shut down operations? What’s the plan if the primary data center and the people who run it are no longer available? How many hours/days/weeks of downtime is acceptable? Who is responsible for the impact to the economy?

Perhaps in the near future the financial sector and government regulators should get together and develop a REAL strategy for continuity of operations of our critical financial infrastructure. I would think a few dollars and hours spent in planning and training to assure operations are continuous would be better than trillions of dollars in financial transactions not taking place. I’m just asking.

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