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Recent disasters give local company the ultimate test

Posted: May 8, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: May 8, 2011 1:30 a.m.

A single rack holding computer sensitive equipment in a data center. The rack sits on an ISO-base seismic mitigation platform, allowing the rack to roll in an earthquake as opposed to shaking violently and damaging sensitive computer equipment.

 

Local resident Don Hubbard has been steadily building his business since 1991. With business partner Gil Moreno, the two have picked up high-profile clients along the way as they built WorkSafe Technologies of Valencia.

With Hubbard as an expert in earthquake preparedness and seismic mitigation, the company has designed, built and installed platforms that protect sensitive computer, data and networking equipment from the intense shaking and vibration that occur during an earthquake. That equipment has been deployed around the world.

On March 11, the ultimate product test came.

With more than 1,700 installation sites of the company’s patented ISO-Base seismic isolation platform in Japan, and $25 billion of equipment at stake, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck Japan.

A tense two weeks
When Hubbard awoke that day, like many other U.S. residents, he was stunned by the televised images and breaking news of the disaster unfolding in Japan.

Damage to computer systems and networks could have crippled the ability of Japan, and the nation’s agencies and businesses, to quickly recover.

The 9.0-magnitude quake put WorkSafe Technologies’ equipment through one of the strongest tests imaginable.

Japan’s monstrous quake ranked among the top five of the world’s most catastrophic earthquakes.

“In the days after the initial earthquake, it was difficult to communicate with our people in Japan — and we naturally had moments of concern,” Hubbard said during a recent interview.

During a breath-holding two weeks, Hubbard and Moreno slowly waited for reports to come back from clients throughout Japan, WorkSafe’s largest client nation.

Product testing
As Hubbard followed the unfolding story, he quickly became aware of the scope of death and destruction caused by the quake and the subsequent tsunami that swept away thousands of lives.

The gravity of the tragedy facing Japan was almost incomprehensible to Hubbard.

Over the last decade, WorkSafe’s platforms had become the standard in the data centers of businesses and government agencies throughout Japan, including Sendai, the largest city near the epicenter of the mega earthquake.

“According to every report we’ve received, despite intense and prolonged shaking, all equipment protected by ISO-Base seismic isolation platforms is intact,” Hubbard said.

Japanese competitors over the years had slowly been creeping up on WorkSafe Technologies’ existing clients and sold companies their own products, he said.

WorkSafe lost some business, and over time, competitors’ products were located in the same rooms as WorkSafe’s.

But as potential damage reports trickled back in, the WorkSafe Technologies products did the job; not one piece of equipment was lost, while the competitions’ failed, Hubbard said.

“There has been no lost operational activity as a result of the mega-quake or the powerful aftershocks, except what was caused by loss of power at these facilities,” Hubbard said of his company’s products.

The seismic platforms patented by WorkSafe Technologies had just passed the ultimate product test. The $25 billion of equipment at stake during the violent shaking in Japan came through with barely a scratch.

Seismic platforms
Traditional methods of using bolts to rigidly anchor equipment to the floor increase the load, or total weight, pressure and force, of seismic activity by as much as two-and-a-half times the item’s weight.

WorkSafe Technologies isolation platforms can reduce the effects by 90 percent.

Drawing on engineering designs to protect building and bridge structures from seismic activity, Hubbard’s vision was to use the same technology on a smaller scale to protect equipment.

Studying a similar design for bridges in Australia, Hubbard’s company licensed the technology and later ended up buying the technology outright. Several patents later, WorkSafe Technologies basically has no competition in the United States, Hubbard said.

The design of ISO-Base seismic isolation platforms is essentially based on placing steel ball bearings between two platforms, like small table tops. The design allows equipment to roll smoothly and evenly on the base, moving with the flow of energy as opposed to resisting the force of movement.

With gravity as a natural force, the bearings inside the planks re-center themselves after an earthquake as the shaking decreases, saving sensitive equipment.

“We’ve been laughed at by people,” Hubbard said. “You think I’m going to put my rack on this ball bearing?”

Growth
With five U.S. locations and eight international locations, WorkSafe Technologies manufactures and assembles seismic platforms at a plant in Palmdale and in Valencia.

The company retains the engineering firm Degenkolb, out of San Francisco, for designs on platforms and other projects.

With 12 employees in the Santa Clarita Valley, 100 in Japan, and one to two people staffing each national and international office, WorkSafe Technologies protects sensitive equipment in numerous companies worldwide.

Included among the nearly 30 nationally recognized firms and organizations it supports are The Boeing Company, Microsoft, NASA, AT&T, DreamWorks, Cisco Systems, IBM, Wells Fargo, Lawrence Livermore National Labs, Honda, Toyota, Toshiba, Morgan Stanley, Aerospace Corp., Verizon and more.

Locally, WorkSafe protects equipment companies such as Woodward HRT, an engineering firm for the defense and commercial aerospace industries.

WorkSafe is gaining increasing work from military installations.

“Halfway through one installation in St. Louis, we were temporarily stopped,” Hubbard said. “It turns out, it was a spy agency.”

The company is currently looking at how it can help protect tanks, like chemical, water or oil tanks, and aging-barrels in the wine industry.

Perspective
Using its patented technology, WorkSafe Technologies now protects more than $40 billion in computer and computer-related assets worldwide.

“Let’s keep things in the proper perspective,” Hubbard said. “We’re very gratified by the performance of ISO-Base during the Japan mega-quake, especially in view of the reported failures of competitive products and alternative fastening methods, but this is no time to celebrate.”

“The bottom line is, our product simply did its job.”

Hubbard said his company is now focused on making sure its customers throughout Japan continue to be well protected and supported in any way.

“We know that thanks to the determined spirit of its resilient citizens, Japan will recover,” Hubbard said. “And we are committed to aiding this recovery in the way we know best.”

WorkSafe Technologies is located at 25133 Ave. Tibbitts #F, Valencia. More information can be found at www.worksafetech.com or by calling (661) 257-2527.

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