When disaster strikes, the role of a company's top IT manager becomes extraordinarily complex. For Sony Electronics CIO Drew Martin, the October wildfires that threatened the company's San Diego-area headquarters quickly escalated into a critical balancing act. Martin found himself torn between trying to attend to the welfare of the company's massive information infrastructure while considering the personal and professional needs of thousands of displaced workers--including himself and his family.
In the weeks following the fires, Martin found time to reflect on his experience with contributor Steve Kovsky.
How did the early hours of the fire unfold for you, and when did you first realize the magnitude of the threat it represented to your family, your co-workers and the company?
It all happened on a Sunday when the fires started. That was a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, we didn't have people in the office. But on the other hand, we started to realize it was headed directly for our corporate headquarters in Rancho Bernardo, and we knew it would be difficult to reach people over the weekend if we had to advise them that we were closing the office. It was pretty chaotic.
One of the big surprises was just how quickly the fire was moving.
Our neighborhood is located next to Poway High School, which on Sunday was already being used as an evacuation center for the town of Ramona. ... Then by midnight on Sunday, we were getting ready to evacuate ourselves.
In the end, we barely had time to grab some photo albums, a change of clothes, some hard drives and some teddy bears. I left with my wife, three kids and the dog. The goldfish, unfortunately, got left at home. Luckily, our home only suffered minor damage from the ash and strong winds.
Had you ever experienced a situation like this before?
In some ways, it was reminiscent of September 11, 2001. I was right in the middle of 9/11, too, because I was living in New York at the time. I grew up in New York and moved to San Diego when Sony moved its headquarters here from New Jersey in 2004.
Unlike during 9/11, we never lost communications in San Diego, even though everyone [government authorities and the media] was telling people to keep off their cell phones so the bandwidth would be available for emergency crews.
What were your first considerations from an IT standpoint?
When you're facing something like this, you get tactical fairly quickly. For instance, I realized that people's in-boxes were filling up so we had to make some unilateral "battlefield" calls to upgrade everybody's in-box size. We also had to ask people to stop attaching files to their e-mails because we had so many people on their BlackBerrys--it was starting to clog up communications.
One of the big take-aways for me was the importance of implementing a reverse-911 notification system for our employees. It's in our long-range plans, and we had already started evaluating products, but I think it's something we are going to have to accelerate moving forward. It will also be very useful in our New Jersey facility because of the severe weather that can occur in that part of the country.
A great example was with our school district, which had already implemented a reverse-911 system. When [the Poway Unified School District] issued its school closure orders on Monday morning [after the fires had started], I instantaneously got an e-mail, while my home phone got a voice message and my cell phone and my wife's phone both started to ring. The county of San Diego had also activated its reverse-911 system by that time, but we never received a call from it.