Y2K Preparations Pay Off for One Maryland County

For Richard Aldridge, director of IT for Charles County government in La Plata, Md., the evening of April 28 is one he'll always remember. As he drove home from church that evening, his conversion van was pelted by baseball-sized hail. By 7:30 p.m. a Category 5 tornado, packing 260-mph winds, had left a path of destruction nearly 500 feet wide and 24 miles long. The tornado cut through the main intersection of La Plata almost midway between the county government building and the law enforcement communications facility. In all, it damaged more than 1,000 buildings and structures.

"Had this been 500 feet north or south of where it went, we'd have been hit much harder," says Charles County Government IT Operations Manager Fred Jackson. "If it had been more north or south, we would have been mopping up without either our communications center or administration complex. Having both of them intact made recovery a lot faster and easier."

Immediately after the tornado hit, the city went to a lock-down status. Although a major north/south artery, officials immediately closed down the debris-strewn U.S. Highway 301. Businesses at the intersection of U.S. 301 and Highway 6 were obliterated. The crossroads area resembled a war zone. Sheet-metal debris was found outside of town and drawers from a bank were found across the Chesapeake Bay in Delaware. Roughly 500 feet north of the debris line stand the offices of Charles County Government, Jackson, Aldridge and the county's new iSeries Model 820.

"When I was finally able to get to the office that evening, I saw we had a big mess on our hands. In the county offices, the roof was basically gone, wiring for communications, including our wireless LAN and other network communications links, was hanging over the side of the building from the roof like spaghetti," Aldridge recalls. "We had a tree come through one of the side walls into one of our programmers office areas. Had this happened during working hours, we would have had a programmer in the hospital. And for the first several days, the building engineers told us that we were in the building at our own risk because they weren't sure of the structures soundness."

Fortunately, the generators survived the storm and the building had power. Most major systems, including the iSeries, which runs the county's integrated applications including financials, taxes, water and sewer billing, purchasing and payroll, were intact. "I got a call from one of the programmers who was in hysterics and said the building had been wiped out," Jackson recalls. "I went on the Internet and saw that our Web page was still up. I used the VPN to dial into the iSeries and saw it was up and running."

If the iSeries server had been down, Jackson believes the county's Y2K preparations would have had the services it provides running again in 24 to 48 hours. "A lot of the planning we did for Y2K really saved us on this one," Jackson says. "We did a lot of reviewing and changes as part of our Y2K plans, and they worked for us that night." The county's Y2K preparations included off-site backup storage and the partnership of a disaster-recovery vendor, who was at the ready should the county have needed its services after the tornado.

















Don Rima has more than 20 years of experience with IBM midrange systems. Don can be reached at

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