A village on Long Island has been preparing for months without the internet.  Is NYC ready too?

A village on Long Island has been preparing for months without the internet. Is NYC ready too?

As people worry about Twitter’s potential demise, the Long Island town of Lynbrook is thinking bigger.

The Nassau County Village came up with a contingency plan earlier this year in case the internet is down for months.

The 11-page document, adopted in September and first reported by Government Technology, lists analog replacements for government operations typically conducted online, such as filing building permits, managing payroll and sending emails. emergency responders.

New Yorkers are no stranger to service outages from their internet service providers, caused in part by networks and cloud computing that run through fewer companies. Local governments have also been plagued by ransomware attacks that cut them off from their computers and abruptly halt vital operations.

A month-long outage is far less likely than those short-term outages – but the Lynbrook officials who wrote the report want to be prepared, citing solar storms and terrorist attacks as possible long-term threats to connectivity. New York City also has a plan in place, officials said, though it’s unclear how long the Big Apple could go without the internet.

“It’s only a matter of time before major attacks on the nation’s internet infrastructure occur,” the Lynbrook report reads, apocalyptically. “It’s not a question of if it will happen, it’s a question of when.”

months without internet

To create the plan for the village of 20,000, Lynbrook officials sat down with the heads of every city department — from the court and clerk’s office to fire and police. They listed the functions of each agency and whether they depended on internet access, then brainstormed alternatives that would allow village government to function even without a stable connection.

Many of the proposed replacements date back to the days before the widespread Internet. Meetings and legal opinions would be faxed to a local newspaper rather than posted online. Parking tickets would be recorded in a logbook. The police department’s computer-aided dispatch would return to radio.

The plan even includes the library and recreation department, which would rely on locally stored catalogs and phone chains rather than websites to share their offerings. (Internet-dependent phone systems could also be affected by a widespread outage, experts noted.)

Jonathan Reichental, who once served as chief information officer for the California city of Palo Alto and now runs a technology consulting firm and teaches at the University of San Francisco School of Management, hailed the plan for its ambition .

“It’s remarkably progressive,” he said. “They think about it and they act accordingly. Many cities and communities could learn from this.

Reichental noted that the redundancy built into the Internet makes an extremely prolonged outage unlikely – and that if a long-term outage did happen, the village will have to focus on the essentials, such as emergency response. In other words, the recreation center may not have top priority.

“We have pretty serious problems if we can’t restore [internet] for several months,” Reichental said.

New York Cybersecurity

New York City officials say they have a detailed plan in place for internet outages, a practice called Citywide Continuity of Operations. Ines Bebea, spokeswoman for New York’s Office of Emergency Management, said city agencies are “encouraged” to provide manual alternatives to digital processes in the event of an outage.

City Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez, who chairs the council’s committee on technology, said that kind of preparation is essential for a metropolis as large and diverse as New York.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of preparing for the worst-case scenario,” she said in a statement to Gothamist. “While we must continue to upgrade and digitize our government technology, we must also be ready to operate without it.”

The city government is also protected from many threats to its connectivity, Office of Technology and Innovation spokesman Ray Legendre told Gothamist. Redundancies in internet service and tightly monitored data centers ensure that the most crucial government functions can continue to operate even in the event of a disruption.

Clayton Banks, founder of local internet service provider Silicon Harlem and an advocate for municipal broadband, said these layers of protection are essential for any local government, where life-and-death functions like emergency response may depend with a solid connection.

“You have to be resilient,” he said. “If you’re not resilient to your broadband, your whole city, state, and country is at risk.”

A 2018 report identified cyberattacks as the No. 1 threat to public health in New York City, citing hospitals’ reliance on the internet for patient health records and medical equipment. Earlier this year, city and state officials created a joint cybersecurity center to defend against and respond to these threats.

“Technology runs our water, controls our electricity and alerts us to emergencies, so cyberattacks have the ability to shut down our entire city if we are unprepared,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. press release announcing the cybersecurity effort.

Reichental said once they make plans, the best thing Lynbrook, New York and other local governments can do is test them, ideally in a tabletop exercise simulating an actual internet outage. The simulations will help city officials protect their plans and create backups for their backups, he added.

Even though a prolonged internet outage seems unlikely, Reichental said, it’s important that local governments are prepared.

“We have to be able to imagine all kinds of possibilities and be brave enough to accept that they can happen,” he said. “And we have to be prepared.”

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