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


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

The village of Nassau County developed a contingency plan earlier this year in case the internet goes out for months.

The 11-page document, adopted in September and first reported by Government Technology, lists analog replacements for government operations typically done online, such as issuing building permits, paying payroll and dispatching emergency responders.

New Yorkers are no strangers to service outages at the hands of Internet service providers — in part because networks and cloud computing move between fewer companies. Local governments have also been hit by ransomware attacks that cut them off from their computers and shut down vital operations.

A month-long outage is less likely than those short-term outages — but Lynbrook officials, who prepared 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 unclear how long the Big Apple can last without the Internet.

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

Months without internet

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

Many of the suggested replacements date back to the days before the widespread internet. Meetings and legal notices would be faxed to the local newspaper, not online. Parking tickets will be recorded in the journal. The police department’s computer-aided dispatch would return to the radio.

The plan even includes a library and recreation department that will rely on locally maintained catalogs and telephone networks rather than websites to share its offerings. (Experts note that Internet-based phone systems could also be affected by widespread outages.)

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

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

Reichental noted that the Internet’s built-in backups do not allow for extremely long-term outages — and if there is a long-term outage did if it does happen, the village needs to focus on basic things like emergency response. In other words, the rec center cannot get priority.

“If we can’t recover, we have serious enough problems [internet] for many months,” Reichenthal said.

NYC Cyber ​​Security

New York City officials say they have a detailed plan in place for the internet outage. Ines Bebea, spokeswoman for the NYC Office of Emergency Management, said city agencies are “focused” on finding manual alternatives to digital processes in the event of an outage.

City Councilwoman Jennifer Gutierrez, who chairs the council’s Technology Committee, said such preparations are 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 being prepared for the worst-case scenario,” he told Gothamist. “While we need to continue to improve and digitize our government technology, we must be ready to work without it.”

Ray Legendre, a spokesman for the Office of Technology and Innovation, told Gothamist that the city government is also protecting its communications from multiple threats. Redundancies in Internet service and closely guarded data centers make it so that the most important government functions can continue to operate even in the event of a failure.

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

“You have to have stamina,” he said. “If you don’t have broadband continuity, your entire city, state and country are at risk.”

A 2018 report ranked cyberattacks as the No. 1 threat to public health in New York City, citing hospitals’ use of the Internet for patient health records and medical equipment. Earlier this year, city and state officials created a joint cybersecurity center to protect against and respond to such threats.

“Technology manages our water, monitors our electricity, and alerts us during an emergency, so cyberattacks can bring our entire city to a standstill if we’re not prepared,” Mayor Eric Adams said in announcing his cybersecurity efforts.

After making plans, the best thing Lynbrook, New York City and other local governments can do is test them in a tabletop exercise that simulates a real-life internet outage, Reichental said. The simulations will help city officials bullet-proof their plans and create backups, he added.

Even if a long-term internet outage doesn’t seem likely, Reichental said it’s important for local governments to be 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 ready.”



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