Can Your Website Withstand Snowmageddon?

Let’s say you’ve got something big happening. A disaster, or the potential for a disaster. A weather emergency, say. Maybe one that’s caused alerts and advisories in nearly half the United States, hundreds of millions of people at risk? One of the first things you’d want to do is post information to your website, maybe update it pretty regularly? I would. The National Weather Service did, too.

Funny thing, though, when lots of people stop by your website, things slow down. When millions of people stop by and pound the refresh key, well, things stop. Kind of like they did for the NWS website during the recent huge snowstorm that buried the Midwest. According to the Washington Post:

The performance issues were linked to “unprecedented demand” on the site’s infrastructure, according to Carey. On Tuesday afternoon, the site was getting 15-20 million hits per hour.

“The traffic was beyond the capacity we have in place. [It] exceeded the week of Snowmageddon.”

The NWS website received 2 billion page views during the week of Snowmageddon, according to Carey. On an average day, he said the website receives an average of about 70 million page views.

The Post article goes into some detail about how poorly designed (and ugly) the NWS site is, as if that was the problem. The real problem, and it’s one we as emergency communicators have, is the server limits. Federal agencies can probably handle the crush better than many, states probably not so much and locals? Not at all.

If something big happened in your jurisdiction, could your web servers handle the crush?All these blog posts I write about how important it is to craft good messages, get them quickly approved, push them out through a variety of methods, and what happens when the big one hits? The server and website slows down to a crawl, or crashes completely.

The solution? Involve IT in your planning. They’re probably already neck-deep in continuity of operations (COOP) or continuity of government (COG) planning, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that they’re not considering your outreach efforts in their plans. Fix that.

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Can Your Website Withstand Snowmageddon?

One thought on “Can Your Website Withstand Snowmageddon?

  1. patricecloutier says:

    Hello Jim …good post … a couple of observations … in the recent Australian floods, when the websites of agencies were drowning (pun intended) both literally and figuratively … social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook often became the only source of info … this was used particularly well by the Queensland Police Service …http://www.benproctor.co.uk/2011/02/five-things-we-can-already-learn-from-queensland-police-use-of-social-media/second, crisis mapping/crowd mapping sites become a very effective tool when the websites from official agencies go down or are no longer reachable … such an example is the one in Oklahoma where the State’s Highway Patrol and Emergency Management Organization both contributed info into a tool that was first set up by volunteers …. see here: http://okicemap.crowdmap.com/All this makes a key point … the combination of mobile devices and technology, social media and the willingness of volunteers to help during a crisis, add a fantastic array of tools for emergency managers and first responders …

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