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Hurricane Sandy: how the Internet remains connected in a crisis

With billions of people around the world now dependent on the Internet for daily life, what happens when a hurricane lands in an area containing two major hubs for international traffic? The answer: New York City plunges into darkness, the East Coast loses transport and basic supplies – but the Internet remains operational, though the effect the storm has on routing is detected around the globe.

New York City and the Washington DC area are both major hubs for international Internet traffic. The hub in New York lays in the path of Hurricane Sandy. As the storm made its way up the coast, the RIPE NCC was monitoring IPv4 traceroutes sent by RIPE Atlas probes located in the affected area to see what they could tell us about the impact Sandy was having on the Internet.

RIPE Atlas collates data from more than 2,000 probes around the world that actively measure Internet traffic in real time. At midnight on 30 October, most of the probes in New Jersey and New York suddenly went dark and stopped sending data.

With the hub in New York down, Internet traffic crossing the Atlantic needed to find a new route. RIPE Atlas detected this as a spike in the traceroutes we were monitoring heading through the hub in the Washington DC area, along with a corresponding drop in those passing through New York. In this way traffic from as far away as South East Asia and Africa was seamlessly re-routed and was able to reach its intended destination. This was so effective that users at home would have been unable to notice any difference.

The RIPE NCC’s findings are a great example of how the Internet can route around damaged nodes and continue to operate in times of crisis. The operators who planned their networks ahead of the storm deserve a lot of credit, as it was through their efforts that the networks were able to remain operational and interconnected under extreme circumstances. And for the people relying on the Internet to follow the storm and stay in touch with loved ones, this likely made all the difference.

To see more detail on the RIPE NCC’s monitoring of the Internet during Hurricane Sandy, visit RIPE Labs. Axel Pawlik is the Managing Director of the RIPE Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC). Axel graduated from the University of Dortmund, Germany, with a Masters Degree in Computer Science. He was later employed at the University of Dortmund from 1985 to 1992, where he contributed to the establishment of UNIX networking as a publicly available service in Germany.