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by Andrew Kenney
When the threat of a natural disaster is aimed squarely at New York City, ensuring that public transportation information is continuously available is essential. With an average of 8.4 million subway riders per weekday, it’s clear public transportation is the backbone of New York life.
The information and critical alerts provided by the website of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York can help minimize chaos and potentially save lives. Acquia is proud to have the MTA as a client and to have assisted the MTA in the days up to and after the Hurricane Sandy crisis to ensure continuous delivery of critical transportation information to the public. The MTA had previously selected Acquia for its expertise in supporting and scaling Drupal for one of its key website: alert.mta.info.
On Thursday, October 25, four days before the “superstorm” made landfall, Acquia representatives met with the MTA team in downtown Manhattan during a regularly scheduled meeting. With the news of the impending storm’s magnitude being the talk of the day, the meeting quickly shifted into a conversation about the preparations necessary for the MTA to serve all of its users without interruption. The joint team decided on scheduling a load test the following day to simulate the extreme spike in website traffic that the hurricane was likely to bring.
During the load test, Acquia engineers identified areas for improvement both in application caching and load balancing. The teams worked into the early hours of the following day and jointly decided to schedule another load test after engineering had made adjustments in order to fully demonstrate that the website would be completely responsive during high load.
Both teams worked into the weekend to ensure the hurricane would not disrupt the MTA’s critical communications with the public. During the subsequent load test, the Drupal application on Acquia Cloud successfully served up to 30,000 concurrent web users and pushed large amounts of data while MTA editors created new content simulating what they would do during emergency conditions. The test further simulated a worst-case scenario by eliminating the use of content delivery network, or CDN, which would normally be available.
Hurricane Sandy ended up making landfall in New Jersey at about 8 p.m. EST on Monday, October 29, and brought unprecedented devastation to New York City and surrounding areas. The storm left hundreds of thousands around the city without power, and, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will cost the state billions in lost revenue. Train and bus services were stalled by the arrival of the storm, though most train and bus service now has been restored.
During this crisis, the MTA was a pivotal source of information for New York City inhabitants and the MTA Alert website exceeded all expectations in performance and availability. Acquia is very privileged to work with great clients such as the MTA whose websites and services are integral to the lives of millions daily and critical to public safety during times of crisis.