Leadership Spotlight: Aline Ward
The Ultimate Test: Katrina
When Hurricane Katrina roared through the Gulf Coast in 2005, Mississippi Power Co. CIO Aline M. Ward rode out the storm with CEO Anthony Topazi and other executives in the $970-million utility's emergency center.
The 39-person IT department had an extensive disaster recovery plan, but the storm damage was off the charts. A major generating plant was lost, miles of transmission lines fell, the corporate office took a beating and all 194,000 customers were left without power.
"We thought we always planned for the worst case," Ward says. "This was worse than that. It was total devastation. A hundred percent of our customers were out of power."
It was Ward's disaster preparation and on-the-scene leadership that helped Mississippi Power restore electricity 12 days later, and that led to Ward's selection as one of our 25 CIO Decisions Midmarket Leadership Award winners. Judges also noted her strong relationship with her CEO as well as with members of her staff, who had to outperform during the crisis even as their homes (like Ward's) were destroyed.
When the power went out, Mississippi Power needed to work fast. Luckily, many of Ward's recent disaster recovery initiatives paid off. A redundant fiber ring proved critical for minimizing outages at the backbone of the network. Prearrangements for microwave systems provided radio communications, which turned out to be the primary method of contact for all storm personnel.
But perhaps the best defense was Ward's dedicated, hardworking IT employees, whom she readily credits. They literally held the door shut to the company's telecommunications room while the wind tried to blow it open. As the water started to rise, they feverishly swept out water and stacked sandbags around the room. Other IT folks carried four 250-pound servers down seven flights of stairs to a makeshift headquarters in order to restore network access.
Along with assisting in efforts to restore electricity to customers, IT provided data and voice networks to various facilities for several hundred displaced employees. "If you've not been through a disaster, it's hard to relate," Ward says. "Everybody pitches in. Roles and responsibility don't matter. That's what got us through it."
This was first published in July 2006