As people fret over the potential demise of Twitter, the Long Island city of Lynbrook is thinking bigger.
The Nassau County village put in place a contingency plan earlier this year if the internet ever goes down for months.
The 11-page document, approved in September and first reported by Government Technology, lists analogue fallback devices for government operations normally done online, like filing building permits, keeping payroll and dispatching emergency responders.
New Yorkers are no strangers to service disruptions from their ISPs – caused in part by networks and cloud computing moving through fewer businesses. Local governments have also been plagued by ransomware attacks that have disconnected them from their computers and brought down vital operations.
A months-long outage is much less likely than these short-term disruptions — 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, officials said, though it’s not clear how long the Big Apple could last without the internet.
“It is only a matter of time before there are major attacks on the country’s Internet infrastructure,” the Lynbrook report apocalyptically states. “It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, it’s a question of when.”
months without internet
To create the plan for the 20,000-person village, Lynbrook officials sat down with heads of every city department — from the court to the ordinance’s office to firefighters and the police. They listed the functions of each agency and whether they relied on internet access – and then considered alternatives that would allow the village administration to function without a stable connection.
Many of the proposed replacements predate the widespread use of the Internet. Meetings and legal notices would be faxed to a local newspaper and not published online. Speeding tickets would be recorded in a logbook. The computerized dispatch of the police department would switch 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 was once the chief information officer for the city of Palo Alto, California and now runs a technology consulting firm and teaches at the University of San Francisco’s School of Management, praised the plan’s ambition.
“It’s remarkably advanced,” he said. “You think about it and act on it. Many cities and municipalities could learn from this.”
Reichental found that the redundancy built into the Internet makes an extremely long outage unlikely — and that’s if it’s a long-term outage did occur, the village would have to concentrate on the essentials, e.g. B. Emergency Response. In other words, the recreation center may not get the highest priority.
“We’re going to have pretty serious problems if we can’t restore it [internet] for many months,” said Reichental.
NYC Cyber Security
New York City officials say they have a detailed plan for internet outages, a practice called Citywide Continuity of Operations. Ines Bebea, a spokeswoman for the NYC Office of Emergency Management, said city authorities are “encouraged” to find manual alternatives to digital processes in the event of an outage.
Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez, chair of the council’s technology committee, said this type 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 important to be prepared 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 prepared to function without it.”
The city government is also protected against many threats to its connectivity, Ray Legendre, a spokesman for the Office of Technology and Innovation, told Gothamist. Redundancies in Internet service and heavily guarded data centers ensure that key government functions can continue to operate even in the event of disruptions.
Clayton Banks, founder of local Internet service provider Silicon Harlem and an advocate for community broadband, said these layers of protection are essential to any local government where vital functions like emergency response can depend on a solid connection.
“You have to have perseverance,” he says. “If you don’t have broadband resiliency, your entire city, state and country is at risk.”
A 2018 report identified cyberattacks as the #1 public health threat in New York City, citing hospitals’ reliance on the internet for patient records and medical equipment. Earlier this year, city and state officials established a joint cybersecurity center to defend against and respond to such threats.
“Technology runs our water, controls our electricity, and alerts us in the event of an emergency, so cyberattacks can bring our entire city to a halt if we’re not prepared,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement announcing the cybersecurity efforts.
Reichental said the best thing Lynbrook, New York City and other local governments can do, once they’ve made plans, is try them out, ideally in a tabletop exercise simulating a real-world internet outage. Simulations will help city officials bulletproof their plans and create backups of their backups, he added.
Even if a prolonged internet outage seems unlikely, Reichental said, it’s important that local governments are ready.
“We have to be able to imagine all the possible possibilities and have the courage to accept that they might come to pass,” he said. “And we must be prepared.”