Hurricane (or “Superstorm”) Sandy was one of the most expensive natural disasters to hit the United States in recent years, responsible for damages exceeding $65 billion to the mainland. Those in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area were hit particularly hard by the storm last October, with many homes and businesses losing power and communications for more than a full week. One of this industry’s leading component/test-equipment suppliers, Mini-Circuits, found itself particularly vulnerable to Sandy’s onslaught: The firm’s main office is located right at sea level in Brooklyn, NY’s historic Coney Island area.
As the waters rose from the storm, neighboring streets and businesses were soon flooded. For its part, the staff of Mini-Circuits was faced with the near-impossible task of trying to carry on “business as usual” after being buried under three feet of water. In the interview that follows, Mini-Circuits President Harvey Kaylie explains how the company was able to successfully battle back against tremendous odds.
MRF: In walking around the building today, it’s easy to see where the water came in, since all the drywall has been removed from about four feet down to the floor. What was it like walking in here after Sandy hit?
HK: The water was about three feet high, and everything that was within three feet of the floor got wet: file cabinets, test equipment, computers…even our network servers (Fig. 1). We had to discard any work in progress that was below the three-foot line. The room you are in now served as the command headquarters. We set up inspection so we could see what suffered water damage and had to be discarded, and what had survived the storm (Fig. 2). This was salt water, which can be very corrosive and damaging.
Our people reacted quickly after the storm. That meant getting all that water out of the building. Some people worked through the night after the storm. What was really remarkable was that two days after the storm hit, we made our shipments.
1. Damage from Sandy’s three-foot-high floodwaters required the removal and disposal of the bottom half of the drywall throughout Mini-Circuits’ Brooklyn, NY facility.
MRF: Your people are to be commended for their tremendous efforts and for putting that time into restoring the company. How did you manage the recovery?
HK: The work week was changed from Wednesday to Sunday, so that everyone worked here on the weekend in order to recover from the effects of the storm. And we kept on making progress. One big problem was getting gasoline. We also have another facility in another location, but our vans and truck that are used to transport people and goods between the two facilities also were damaged. And then we needed to get gas, which was not readily available here in the Brooklyn area of New York City. We got gas cans from Las Vegas, NV and then we got the gas from Albany, NY. That was how we were able to function.
When the hurricane first came, we had our gas backup generator, but it does not provide enough power for the whole place—only enough for some key equipment, like the main computers. We were walking around with flashlights because of the limited power in the building. We even had a fish swimming through the hallways because of the massive amount of water we had in the building.
Then we had some replacement equipment that was delivered here from Mexico and from Japan, and we had some repair parts that we needed sent right away. We had to order new equipment. We had people coming from California and from Massachusetts to help us, to see what we had to do to keep our business going. We had to order some transformers, which we were able to get from our other facility. We relied on our disaster recovery plan, which worked out very well, and we made a great deal of progress.
We worked weekdays every night until 11 p.m. We had our own people working hard and we also got outside people helping us with repair work. That’s why my office is all under renovation. And when you come next time, you’ll see that’s why it looks different. That’s how we made progress—every day a little more.
Our software people had to work hard to restore files. Because some of our computers were damaged, along with their files, we had to send some of our equipment to an outside specialist to recover the files that we needed. In the end, we apologized to our customers for any delays the storm might have caused, but then we shipped their orders to them earlier than they might have requested, because we wanted to be clear to focus on where we needed to rebuild the company.
2. The effects from Sandy’s floodwaters led to damage to many of the RF/microwave vector network analyzers used for high-frequency production testing.
MRF: Did your customers understand what you were going through after the storm?
HK: I don’t know. I would imagine that each one had different thoughts on what we were going through. We put a notice out on our website. As part of our recovery efforts, we wanted to make sure that communications were still flowing. We have call centers—one in Missouri and the other in Deer Park, NY—and we tried to shift phone calls to them, for which we were partially successful. So we were able to keep the communications flow going after the storm. Then, of course, our Internet and website are very important, so we put a big emphasis on making sure both were operating properly.
Everyone pitched in, and that’s what it takes to recover. It takes a good plan with people who are motivated. In reality, we helped ourselves. From a manufacturing standpoint, we have fully recovered. We still are doing work on the building, but that is done in the evenings so we can keep the business going during the day. We have had to dry out the building, have it dehumidified, and have it sprayed as part of a decontamination process so that people don’t get sick; we brought people in from the outside to take care of that. The bottom line is that Sandy was a big bump in the road for Mini-Circuits, but we are back now and introducing new products.
MRF: From the outside world, it looks like very little happened, since I think your customers have come to see Mini-Circuits as a reliable source that won’t be slowed down even by a hurricane. Some of your customers may not know the hardship that the company has been through because of Sandy.
HK: I can tell you that right down the block from here, all the stores are closed because of damage from the hurricane. They were all flooded. We are right by the bay, and there is a narrow strip of land, and then you have the Atlantic Ocean. So you have the water from the Ocean and the Bay. There’s a bridge that crosses the Bay that was destroyed. We see ships that were left on dry land. There’s a major bank about four blocks from here that is still closed because of the storm.
MRF: Did you receive any official help from the government?
HK: No, we helped ourselves. We even had to get the containers for throwing out all the destroyed equipment and materials. Everything was a tremendous effort and we had to improvise. We are back in action—and we are now going strong, introducing new products.