SW24's Fusion Centre a lifeline during Sandy
NEW YORK—With Hurricane Sandy making landfall and forecasters’ worst fears coming true, Gene Dellaglio drove out into the night on Oct. 29 to check on SecureWatch 24’s new Fusion Centre in Moonachie, N.J. As trees fell and the power grid faltered, he arrived at the central station and prepared for the worst.
“I got there just before the storm hit,” said Dellaglio, chief technology officer for SW24, a Manhattan-based security company that specializes in property surveillance and facilities management. “I figured we could get some flooding but I wasn’t really sure, so I moved all of the vehicles to high ground. We have generators and backup batteries, but the facility was going to be empty, so I shut everything off—I disabled everything. We weren’t sure what to expect.”
Later that night a berm on the Hackensack River was topped by a tidal surge, flooding Moonachie and the neighboring boroughs of Little Ferry and Carlstadt with up to 5 feet of water. Hundreds of homes and businesses were inundated, thousands of residents were displaced and the area was left in the dark. Some residents had to be rescued from their rooftops.
The next morning Dellaglio headed back to Moonachie, aware of news reports about the berm and “devastation everywhere.” But when he reached the Fusion Centre, which is scheduled to go on line Dec. 1, a surprise awaited him.
“I get inside the building and we’re bone-dry,” Dellaglio told Security Systems News. “Not a drop of water—25,000 square feet, a $4 million investment, bone-dry.”
After turning on the generators, lights and other equipment in the building, SW24 moved its semi-critical servers from a co-location facility in Manhattan to Moonachie. Critical systems had been moved out of the region before the storm, said Jay Stuck, vice president of sales and chief marketing officer for SW24.
“What we did was back up all of our servers in Texas,” Stuck said. “All essential systems were backed up there. We did lose a couple of trucks in our [Moonachie] parking lot, at least three vehicles.”
As the Fusion Centre was being brought up to speed, reports started to mount about the extent of the damage in the surrounding area. Municipal infrastructure and communications were being affected, putting the lives of residents, local officials and emergency responders at risk.
“Across the street from us at the DPW [Department of Public Works], I’m talking to the superintendent for the town and she says they barely escaped from there with their lives,” Dellaglio said. “Water flooded up to chest level in about 15 seconds in the room they were in. They were standing in 5 feet of water. They were breaking windows to get out of there.”
With the Fusion Centre operational at a time when many other facilities were not, Dellaglio said the building quickly took on a new role: a command post in a time of crisis, a “nexus” to bridge the gap between public and private entities.
“I reached out to [local officials] and said, ‘We’ve got this new facility, we’re four weeks away from launch, I’ve got power here, I’ve got everything you need,’” he said. “‘You guys move in and we’ll host you.'"
Within hours the Moonachie Police Department was operating from the Fusion Centre, followed by the borough clerk and other local administrators. Although the facility was on generator power for 36 hours, Internet connectivity was never lost. Dellaglio said Verizon Wireless, through its Business Solution Alliance program, stepped up to provide cellphone service and more than 50 devices—handsets, smartphones and Blackberrys—to assist municipal and emergency personnel.
“[Verizon] comes in, we set up a charging station, the guys light it up, and Moonachie PD is up and running,” he said. “They’re taking 911 calls here and all of the calls for town hall right out of our Fusion Centre. We’re tracking the storm up on the big screen, we’re looking at traffic forecasts. … All of this time, we’re monitoring our own systems.”
State officials also took advantage of the Fusion Centre’s operational status, with Gov. Chris Christie touring the facility and holding a news conference in the parking lot on Nov. 1, Stuck said.
For municipal employees working out of the Fusion Centre while waiting for their power to be restored at home, there were also hot showers, locker rooms and clean towels. All of it was offered at no charge, Dellaglio said, and SW24 was happy to do it.
“Most people walked in here and couldn’t believe that, No. 1, this place existed, and No. 2, it was in their backyard,” he said. “We see it as our civic duty to be able to help out because we have this facility. …We’re grateful we can do it.”
Above Photo: Des Smyth, left, president of SecureWatch 24, greets New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Nov. 1 at SW24's Fusion Centre in Moonachie, N.J. Christie met with first responders and held a news conference at the facility in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.