The effort to keep a data center running in a flood damaged building at 75 Broad St. in lower Manhattan is certainly inspiring. The basement was flooded, disabling a fuel pumping system that supplied a generator on the roof.
Customers and data center staff carried fuel up 17 flights of steps, via a bucket brigade, to keep a rooftop generator running. They clearly saved the day.
But was it worth the risk?
The building had no generator power. No utility power.
What was the condition of the building fire suppression systems?
Was the fire alarm system operational?
Were fire doors kept open as fuel was moved up the stairs?
What if a fuel bucket had been dropped and fuel spilled down the steps?
If this was my business, servers and job, my personal inclination would have been to help haul that fuel up. I totally get that.
But there’s also an obligation to step back and look closely at whether the actions taken here were prudent and wise.
This building was either directly in the evacuation zone or on the cusp. (See this interactive map). The flood waters reached a height of four feet in the lobby, so it is fair to say that the building was clearly in a high risk area and flooding was anticipated.
Because of the flooding risks, should the building have been shut down before the storm ever arrived?
Once the building flooded, and it was seriously flooded, should it have been evacuated?
Were the volunteers who carried up the fuel putting themselves in harm’s way?
Perhaps there is a margin of safety involved here that I’m unaware of, but these are questions that will have to be asked because this can't happen again.
(Photo credit: Squarespace Sandy status.)