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AT&T vp explains network disaster recovery process

Mark Francis

AT&T constantly plans for disasters and possible service interruptions, according to Mark Francis, vice president of global network operations planning and support, based out of the company’s Bedminster, New Jersey location. And, if a disaster occurs, “We are coming in full force to get communications restored,” he says.

Francis is responsible for contingency planning, network disaster recovery, and network continuity of the AT&T Network Services infrastructure. He has a B.S. in computer science and an M.B.A. in information systems.

Francis explains that AT&T has plans to deal with a number of disasters including winter storms, tornadoes, floods, mudslides, and man-made disasters such as terrorist attacks. AT&T constantly monitors weather forecasts to plan and prepare for events such as hurricanes and winter storms several days in advance. “Our planning and preparation is based on constant monitoring and the knowledge that a disaster could happen. We analyze risks and respond to each vulnerability.”

In addition to monitoring the situation, they take a proactive approach to disaster preparedness by regularly performing exercises and drills. “Lots of people do paper exercises, but we roll out the assets and do the actual exercises so our people know exactly what to do,” he says. AT&T regularly performs full scale network recovery exercises in which their employees physically set up and operate equipment in order to respond as if they were in a real disaster situation.

He emphasizes the importance of doing the exercises not only to allow employees to gain a more thorough understanding of the process, but to “ensure that [managers] have the right people on their teams with the right mindsets and personalities.”

AT&T was the first private sector company to receive the DHS’s PS-Prep Certification in 2012, he explains. The PS-Prep certification is an emergency preparedness certification from DHS designed for the private sector. He also mentions, “Some government officials have begun to partner with telecommunications companies like AT&T and we perform exercises with government officials on occasion when requested.”

Francis believes that all of their hard work planning and performing exercises allow them to respond more quickly and effectively in the event of a real disaster situation.

If and when a disaster occurs, AT&T takes full action. “We immediately pull teams together, review the strength of the storm, plan out scenarios, fill up all of our fuel tanks, and discuss the locations of our network assets.” Francis adds that AT&T may even stage assets outside of the disaster area, stock up on supplies, and bring in teams to assess the area. During disaster situations, AT&T implements the Yes-OK program which is a hotline that their team members must call to verify where they are located and that they are safe.

“When a disaster strikes, our main objective is to restore service and allow our customers to communicate and then gradually take steps to repair the system without cutting corners. All disasters present an opportunity for education and improvement.” The networks are also “built in a resilient manner," he emphasizes.


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