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Tragedy and the Internet - 2001-09-18

During the terrorist attacks on the United States Tuesday, some observers say that the Internet successfully demonstrated that it is a reliable means of communication during a crisis.

To find out more about how the information super highway performed, VOA's Dan Noble spoke with Maurene Grey, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest, a major research firm. Here's a portion of their conversation.

Dan Noble: "How has the Internet responded to the tragedy of September 11?"

Maurene Grey: "The Internet has been the real lifeline to enable people to get in touch with their families, business associates to get in touch with their colleagues. Very often when the phone system didn't work. For example, here at Gartner, we had a very difficult time calling into New York City, as many companies did. We were able to communicate across Instant Messaging, across e-mail, over the Internet to allow us to make sure that our family, our friends, and our colleagues were okay."

Dan Noble: "Was this one of the reasons why the Internet was designed this way?"

Maurene Grey: "That's right. Many people will remember that it was designed as a mechanism that during the case of an emergency, or an attack, or some other critical situation, it would keep on going. It is a mesh design, a network of networks with an enormous amount of redundancy. It's very hard to take the Internet down, so to speak, because of the mesh design of it."

Dan Noble: "Was there much planning in advance for tragedies such as the ones we saw at the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center regarding the Internet and technology?"

Maurene Grey: "This has been a horrific week and I don't know if anyone could have forecast the amount of communication and network capabilities that would be required. However, just the nature of the Internet, from a design perspective allowed it to operate as it was originally designed. From an IT perspective..."

Dan Noble: "That's information technology."

Maurene Grey: "Right, information technology. An organization's IT organization in most cases were able to access what communications systems and links were operational and then reinforce them as they needed to, to ensure that the performance, the capacity, would continue to work going outbound from their organization, to even connect on to the Internet. Now there certainly were instances where people were looking at particular web sites. Some of the web sites said: "Could you use your phone system, or e-mail, or Instant Messaging instead to get updates, because particular web sites were getting overloaded with traffic." But, as a communications vehicle, using Instant Messaging, using e-mail, it worked very well. It was in many situations the only way we could connect to each other."

Dan Noble: "What are you telling companies who you supply your services to, what they should do in the future? What would make their communications and their information technology work if there is a disaster?"

Maurene Grey: "At the outset of the emergency as we were talking about the IT organization should quickly assess which systems and links are operational and reinforce them as needed. They should monitor the communication systems, and the networks. You really want to have some type of special handling procedures."

Dan Noble: "Thank you very much, Ms. Grey. We've been speaking with Maurene Grey, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest."