Things Unknown: A Disaster Story, Chapter One

Things Unknown: A Disaster Story, Chapter One

Using “Riders on the Storm” as a ringtone seemed like a good idea at the time. Looking at your phone displaying 4:42 a.m., however, made it seem more like a cruel joke.

“Hello” you mumbled sleepily, already beginning to sense impending doom.

“Sorry to wake you, Alex – it’s Michael at the monitoring company. We’ve just received an alarm that your office security doors have lost power – we think it might have something to do with the weather. No worries, though – your doors will remain locked.”

“What weather?” you thought as you thanked Michael for the call. “I don’t remember any weather problems in the forecast.”

After a quick check of your phone, you flip on CP24 to see if there’s any news. Sure enough, a powerful rainstorm blew into the area in the early morning hours.

“We’re getting reports of widespread flooding in the downtown’s west end,” said the anchor, “with office buildings and retail stores sustaining damages from the rising waters. We go now to Sunish Bhatnagar for the live report.”

As the television cameras switched to the reporter, you felt your face drain – you recognized the location!

It was 3 years ago you signed the lease on the building. Your business had begun to explode after a slow start, and you now needed the extra space. It seemed like such a find – a one-storey, thirties-era former machine shop with exposed brick and great beams. The fact it came with a basement was just a bonus, as it gave you more room to house your servers, telephone switches, and all the other “stuff” you needed to keep your 65-member team productive, your customers buying, and your data protected.

“The basement!” Your mind raced as you watched the report. “What’s happening to my servers?”

Working hard to calm your nerves, you checked back in on your phone. “Odd,” you thought, “no new emails.” Thinking it might be time to get over to the office, you grab your last clean hoody, summon a Lyft, and fire off a message to Jo, your VP of Operations.

“How can there be surge pricing at 5:30 in the damn morning?” you muttered to yourself as you climbed out of the car. To add insult to injury, the driver let you out a block away as police had cordoned off your street.

As you walked/half ran toward your building, it was hard not to notice the water starting to lap at your ankles. The rain had stopped, which was a blessing, but the water seemed to get deeper as you reached your front door.

“Oh… that’s going to be an issue,” you thought as you looked at those all-glass mag-lock doors. “Everybody else only has a key card. How are they going to get in?”

As you opened the door with your old-school key, you quickly realized that would be the least of your problems.

“Are you okay, sir?”

You jumped a little at the sound of a police officer’s voice.

“Yeah – I’m fine – this is my business – I’m just checking out the damage.”

“Okay for now, but we’re going to have to ask you to evacuate the premises. We’ll be shutting down the whole area to traffic and pedestrians.”

As you looked around, you knew why. There was six inches of water across the whole floor, and it was rising. You glanced towards the elevator. You had thought it was so cool when you first walked through the building. It seemed funny to have an elevator in a one-floor building, but it was one of those ancient freight elevators, about the size of a small Winnebago, with open sides, a plank floor, and a wrought-iron swing door, leading to the basement.

That elevator shaft was now serving as the jumping off point for a mini-Niagara Falls (“Well, maybe the American side…” you thought, wryly) directly pouring into the nerve centre of your entire operation.

You checked your phone again, hoping to see somebody reaching out. No one. Not even Jo, who never responded to your email.

Then it hit you. “If email isn’t working, how am I going to get in touch with everyone? How am I going to let all our customers know?”

For a moment, you breathed a sigh of relief. You had a list of contact numbers for all your employees. You just had to access it on …

“… the server.” You grimaced as you face-palmed yourself. “That’s going to be a huuuge help.”

Slowly, it began to dawn on you all the things you were going to have to deal with. That’s when the phone rang.

“Jo – I’m glad you finally got around to calling me,” you answered, hoping your voice came off as gently mocking rather than the slight irritation you actually felt.

“Yeah, sorry about that – I just woke up and heard the news. Have you been to the office?”

“Yeah, I’m here now, but I have to evacuate – cop’s orders. It’s bad… really bad. I think our basement might be completely under water.”

“It looks like our entire operation is down” said Jo. “All systems are offline – servers, network, mail, e-commerce, building access… everything.”

“How long will it take you to restore the backup when the power comes back on?” you asked, regretting that it never occurred to you to ask this question before.

“To be honest, I’m not sure – never had to do it before. But that’s not really the biggest problem…” said Jo, her voice trailing…

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we’re going to need all new equipment to run it on.”

“But we have flood insurance, right?”

“Yeah, we do, but that’s going to take a while. What we don’t have is a backup facility. So we’re going to have to take whatever we can get from our suppliers – it’s going to be at full list price, and it’s going to be slow getting here. It looks like we’ll be out of the building for days, maybe weeks, before it’s safe to go back in. I’m not even sure where we can set up operations in the meantime.”

“Ohhhh…” you groaned “where are we going to send our employees? You know what’s crazy? I don’t even know how to reach everyone. And don’t even start with me on getting the word out to customers. I haven’t got a clue who to contact – all that’s in our accounting system.”

“We can always use Twitter,” said Jo, helpfully. “Or post something on our website.”

“I haven’t got the password for those written down anywhere. Who handles that? Is it Taylor in Communications?”

Jo gasped audibly. “You know what??? I just remembered. Taylor’s tree-top trekking in Costa Rica for two weeks – can’t be reached.”

Your phone rang. “Riders on the storm… dunh da da da dunh…”

It was 6:57 a.m.

It was going to be a very long day.