Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cyprus and Warrnambool - the individual dangers of system dependence

I will return to the discussion on the Cyprus issue, but for the moment my attention was caught by another apparently disconnected story.

In the Cypriot case, all those living in the island republic found themselves caught up in a catastrophic economic system failure. They couldn't access money, they couldn't use credit cards, they couldn't be paid or pay bills. A national disaster became a personal catastrophe.

At 5.30 am on the morning of 22 November 2012, Warrnambool farm manager Greg Walsh went to check on his emails and to send instructions to staff. He then found that both his mobile and fixed line phone were also down. Listening to the radio, he learned that there had been a fire at the local Telstra exchange.

Driving the twenty minutes into town, he realised that he was short of petrol. Calling into a service station, he found that they were only accepting cash because their EFTPOS was down and he had only $5 in his pocket. Navigating that difficulty, upon arrival in town he found queues at all the banks. With systems down, staff were handing out up to $100 in cash to customers who could prove their identity, writing the transactions down on pieces of paper.

It took Telstra nearly three weeks to get the district fully back online. While mobile and some emergency telephone services were back within days, internet services took longer. During that time businesses lost thousands of dollars through being cut off from their systems and customers. To date Telstra has paid out up to $1000 to nearly 2000 businesses, and is assessing a smaller number of larger claims.

You can read the fuller story in this piece by Brad Howarth, What if they pulled the plug?. There Brad muses on the impact of a larger scale internet crash.

Both Cyprus and Warrnambool illustrate the dangers associated with our dependence on large, complex, systems.  Both are individual warnings

No comments: