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Volume 27, Issue 3

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Electronics/Communications Recovery at the World Trade Center

At approximately 3:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon, February 26, 1993, just hours after the explosion beneath the World Trade Center occurred, our 24 Hour Emergency Hot Line began ringing. Companies who were pre-registered with us, and others who had simply pre-qualified BMS Cat as their emergency response vendor for restoration of their electronics, vital records, documents and facilities in the event of a disaster, called to put us on standby for assistance. Corporations whose contingency plans called for relocation of their crisis teams and critical applications to a hot site, cold site or internal hot site, and were already on their way to those locations, had their facility manager, risk manager or insurance broker call us immediately.

Many searched for the right direction to take as the unexpected enormity of the disaster began to sink in. Plans for recovery were put into effect from locations, not only in and outside of the New York area, but from overseas as well. Our first call was from a major mid-west financial institution whose international banking organization is located in Tower I.

We arranged to meet with them on Saturday morning to discuss their concerns and priorities regarding their critical contents in their tenant space. Saturday was also a day of non-stop phone calls from numerous institutions, including the Port Authority Data Center personnel and Fiduciary Trust, who were already recovering at their hot sites, but were now addressing the issue of the status of their electronics at the World Trade Center.

Within 72 hours of the blast, our technical project management and damage assessment team, accompanied by our Chief Scientist Leslie (Dave) McDaniel, had already assessed much of the damage in our client’s suites and submitted initial reports to those clients outlining the extent of contamination in their data and Telecommunications Centers. Analytical testing, to determine the basis for our reports, consisted of tests identifying the corrosivity potential of the soot plate. This was done by checking both for hallogenides and pH levels. Our testing protocol allows us to determine within 30 minutes (rather than waiting days), the quantitative as well as qualitative corrosivity, so that in a relatively short period of time we were able to arrive at the generalized characteristics of the soot contamination throughout the entire structure.

As our Mr. McDaniel explained: “When a fire occurs, the materials pyrolyzed or burned release a complex set of chemical fire by-products which are unique to that occurrence and can be thought of as the signature of that fire. Joined in an aliphatic matrix of oxidized organic molecules and carbon particulate, we call soot, the smoke is distributed throughout an area and condenses on surfaces according to another set of physical parameters. The pH was measured at selected locations to check for the presence of other contaminants. Visual examinations were made for the level of carbonaceous particulate and any unusual damage.

No hologenide contaminants were detected at any of the locations tested. The levels of pH measured were all within the range of 5.8 to 7.0. The visually detected level of carbonaceous particulate was rated from light to moderate. Examination of several different floors has shown that the soot distribution is highly unusual. The explosion pyrolized and oxidized material. The force of the gasses then propelled the resultant combustion products up the vertical shafts in the Towers. The contaminant appeared to be equally distributed on all floors, with the severity determined by the proximity of the area to the conveying shaft, and not the vertical distance above the location of the actual explosion. The fact is that the 90th floor has as much soot particulate as the 16th floor. The highest concentrations of particulate were found on the south side of Tower One closest to the explosion. In general, Tower Two had less soot than Tower One.

The pH scale is useful in determining the presence of additional contaminants which are not detected by the halogenide test. A pH of 7.0 is defined as a neutral solution. Any reading higher than 7.0 indicates an alkaline (or basic) solution. Any reading less than 7.0 indicates an acidic solution. The lower the number, the greater the acidity. The pH of the deionized water used in the tests was measured and found to be 6.4 pH. Routinely pH values from 5.5 to 7.5 are found in testing. Values below this range are cause for concern.

It has never been clearer that planning for these important issues such as delay in reoccupancy after disasters, retrieval of critical work in progress, and tenant/owner disaster planning relationships play a vital part in the overall Corporate Contingency Plan for business continuity.

Carbonaceous particulate is a concern for magnetic media reliability. The recording density is so dense that a carbon particle can destroy a significant portion of data. Even though the halogenide corrosivity potential, as measured by the surface concentration is low, there is potential for data loss on magnetic media, compromising of PC board dielectric properties, and the possible interference with electrical signal contact surfaces. The damage potential dictates the removal of the soot contaminant from areas were computers and other electronic equipment is used or from areas where the particulate might migrate into the above areas.”

Based upon this information we were able to advise our clients as to, not only the degree of damage, if any, but whether we recommended restoration or replacement. In this instance, restoration was called for because of the lack of corrosivity.

During this time, Mr. McDaniel was also meeting with the OEM equipment vendors and contractual repair vendors to arrive at a consensus of protocol which would permit them to quickly recertify the electronics. Cleaning of the electronics was then performed by our Electronic Restoration Technicians using this protocol.

While the Port Authority restricted general access to the tenant suites due to the forensic, structural and security concerns being addressed, many tenants had made temporary arrangements for replacement equipment at their relocation sites. Due to our analytical assessment and characterization of the soot as relatively benign, unnecessary and duplicate purchases of equipment were avoided.

Within the next week, tenants were permitted, in limited numbers, and under escort, to retrieve vital documents, work in progress and personal belongings. Unfortunately, some tenants also removed some of their pcs and electronic media while still contaminated with carbonaceous by-products of the explosion. The result of this can be cross contamination, data error, head crashing and the possibility of electrical shorts due to arcing. In short, a potential for increased failure rate of the equipment and loss of data.

As a courtesy to their tenants, the Port Authority provided cleaning of the horizontal surfaces in the leased tenant space by janitorial firms. By agreement, no cleaning or inspections of the inside of drawers or file cabinets was provided by those janitorial companies. It will be up to the individual tenants to contract for these services.

As of this writing, both Towers I and II are open, and tenants are beginning to move back in. Those tenants who had not previously addressed the issue of their electronics which remained in their suites while they relocated, are now realizing they must do so. One reason is that the service contract they had on their equipment became null and void at the time of the explosion, as their equipment was exposed to a hostile environment including soot and smoke. The equipment service vendors want to be sure that they do not have a higher failure rate after the incident than was average before the incident. Restoring the equipment back to like kind and quality is necessary for recertification.

And so, as we continue to restore these items, and as the tenants return to their offices, it has never been clearer that planning for these important issues such as delay in reoccupancy after disasters, retrieval of critical work in progress, and tenant/owner disaster planning relationships play a vital part in the overall Corporate Contingency Plan for business continuity.


Pat Moore is the Director of the Education and Disaster Recovery Division of BMS Catastrophe, Inc. (BMS CAT).

This article adapted from Vol. 6 #2.

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