By Esther Surden for New Jersey Tech Weekly
When Superstorm Sandy hit, Hoboken took a real beating. Much of the burgeoning tech hub was flooded. Mission Fifty, the co-working space there that is home to several tech companies located in the JDA Group-owned Hoboken Business Center, was surrounded by flood waters.
Greg Dell’Aquila, Mission Fifty owner, said he was trapped in his apartment until the Wednesday after the storm. When he finally got out, he began to try to figure out how to re-open the coworking space. He drove over to the business center but couldn’t get near it because it was surrounded by water.
On Thursday he saw the water had receded. “I did everything that I could to get a generator,” he said, and he was successful. Chris Ferreira — a Mission Fifty member (those who work there pay membership fees) whose business, Send Tech, is across the street from the building and who maintains the network for Mission Fifty — and Dell’Aquila brainstormed. The goal was to get the Internet up and running for the coworkers who were normally there and any others in need.
Dell’Aquila’s idea was to use extension cords, “but when Chris got here, he said we should power the electrical panel with the generator.”
When he designed Mission Fifty, Dell’Aquila built in Internet redundancy, using both Optimum Online and FIOS for Internet, so as soon as the building regained power, he was able to offer Internet access. The redundancy is a feature of one of Send Tech’s customizable units called a SendBox: a specialty item that replaces several network boxes and is maintained by the company. Dell’Aquila said it is less expensive to incorporate into a small business network than traditional networking equipment replacements.
The next day Dell’Aquila stood in a gas line from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. to get the gasoline to power the generator. Ferreira lives in Fort Lee, and as a result of having his own gas cans and some a friend had lent him, he was able to get sufficient gas from an area that had been hard hit, with only about 10 percent of its gas stations in operation.
“With the gas Chris brought down and the gas I was able to get, we were able to connect the generator and get Mission Fifty up and running Friday night. … I opened fully Saturday morning,” Dell’Aquila said. “I got the word out to my members via Twitter, Facebook and email,” he added. People began to follow Mission Fifty on the social networking sites. The best tweet, he said, was from the City of Hoboken, which re-tweeted to its 10,000-plus followers.
On Saturday and Sunday, people slowly started coming in from their homes, but when Monday rolled around, they began filling Mission Fifty. “I got 40 new people I had never seen coming in on Monday. I am still talking with some people about using Mission Fifty for their co-working needs.”
Sandy devastated Hoboken; there are still some buildings there that don’t have power and won’t for about a month, Dell’Aquila said. “I am still trying to juggle to see if I can handle 10 to 15 more people in the space. Luckily, there was plenty of office space capacity to handle the initial demand,” he noted.
“The regular coworkers didn’t come back until the following week, so the new users had places to work,” he said. And even when members are working at Mission Fifty, because of a membership structure allowing people to work five or 10 days a month, the space will be able to take on additional coworkers, he added.
“We did increase the capacity of the Internet lines through Verizon. It was something we were probably going to be doing anyway. And it worked,” Dell’Aquila said. He added that when Mission Fifty first made demands on the Verizon system it failed, but Ferriera’s box worked and the Internet instantly switched to the Optimum service.
Explained Dell’Aquila, “When I first hired Chris to do the network, it was because it couldn’t handle the number of users Mission Fifty grew to have. It’s one thing when Chris says, ‘It’ll work; don’t worry.’ It’s another when there are people in here, paying customers, all relying on the network because they have nowhere else to go.” He noted that several tenants of the Hoboken Business Center, which didn’t get power back until the following week, went up to the building’s fourth floor to use Mission Fifty power and Internet.
Esther Surden is the editor & publisher of NJTechWeekly.com. She is a veteran journalist who has written about the business of technology as well as how technology works for more than 30 years.