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October 25, 2007

No Plan, No Site, No Business

Written by  Anne M. McCarthy
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American business is ill-prepared for major disruptions to its computer-aided work areas. Last September, Comdisco Disaster Recovery Services commissioned a study whereby 300 U.S. businesses evaluated their level of vulnerability on a scale of 0 to 100, 100 being most vulnerable. Average ratings for their technology dependent work environments reflected a vulnerability index of 75 (See figure 1). This vulnerability was clearly demonstrated as a result of the recent World Trade Center explosion, on February 26, 1993. Over 900 businesses in the World Trade Center were disrupted as a result of a terrorist act. Early estimates show business loss to be at approximately $300 million, (New York City Comptroller, Business Insurance, 3/8/93). One company, Fiduciary Trust International, was prepared and implemented their business recovery program even before they knew the cause of the disruption.

“The explosion occurred a little bit after 12:00 noon and even before we knew the extent of the damage, we had an instinct that this was more than just turning off the power. We invoked our disaster plan by about 1:00 p.m., long before we had any information about the bomb,” commented Lawrence Huntington, Chairman of Fiduciary Trust International.

At time of disaster, the one thing companies have against them is time. Fiduciary Trust International quickly assessed the situation, ensured the safety of their people and resumed their business operation by start of business Monday morning. “It was survival. We couldn’t afford not to be up and running Monday morning. We have major clients all around the world who rely on our ability to complete their trading activity, to move their funds around the world. And that means that the computer capabilities really had to be up and running or we would have had serious difficulties servicing our clients’ needs,” continued Huntington.

When any disruption strikes, the modern American workplace is crippled. Telephones go unanswered and output is reduced to a standstill. In short, business comes to a grinding halt. This translates into disgruntled customers, lost revenues and long-term harm to a company’s goodwill.

When any disruption strikes, the modern American workplace is crippled. Telephones go unanswered and output is reduced to a standstill. In short, business comes to a grinding halt. This translates into disgruntled customers, lost revenues and long-term harm to a company’s goodwill. In today’s competitive environment, businesses cannot afford to be down. In fact, tremendous customer confidence is achieved when companies can demonstrate their ability to service customers despite the disruption.

“Our customers were truly flabbergasted and gratified that we were able to recreate the business to meet their needs starting first thing Monday morning. Our goal was to present a seamless approach to our clients. We called them on the phone to say, “We’re here and we’re open for business! If you punch your terminal you’ll see your account information up and running just the way it was when the power went off on Friday,” stated Huntington.

Fiduciary Trust International quickly activated their business recovery program with the goal of ensuring “business as usual” for the customers. With the weekend, they were able to relocate and reroute their business to their designated alternate site as contracted with Comdisco Disaster Recovery Services, a division of Comdisco, Inc. Once the call to Comdisco was made, the Fiduciary Trust International recovery team immediately began the relocation of their business to the North Bergen facility.

The goal of Fiduciary’s recovery effort...to resume all critical operations. With this in mind, their recovery plan called for the relocation of all key departments. Office space was assigned, networks rerouted, PCs and LANs were configured, and proper call distribution was setup overnight at Comdisco’s North Bergen recovery facility. Critical functions such as Investor Services, Client Services, Human Resources, Data Services, Controllers, Mailroom, Investment Management, Treasurer and Banking Departments, Securities and Purchasing Departments were re-established, tested and ready for business when the London markets opened on Monday morning (Sunday evening - EST). All of this could not have been successfully implemented by the Monday morning deadline without the guidance of a recovery plan and a pre-defined/tested recovery facility.

“The greatest advantage of having the plan in place is knowing we could comfortably resume mainframe and distributed computer systems. Since the securities industry is really just a massive information flow, without data systems you can’t stay in business. So fortunately for us, our plan was explicit and had been tested a number of times,” stated David Stone, Fiduciary’s Executive Vice President of Operations.

Fiduciary Trust International was just one of three banks that relocated and resumed full operations at Comdisco’s North Bergen recovery facility. Over 900 people commuted daily from points in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and New Jersey on shuttles (24 buses daily) arranged through Comdisco. The magnitude of business conducted is evident in the tremendous equipment and service needed at North Bergen:

  • 19,000 calls a day through the recovery facility
  • 1000+ phones installed
  • 500+ PCs
  • 300+ DEC Terminals
  • 100+ IBM Terminals
  • Reuters, Telerate & Bloomberg Services
  • 50+ fax machines
  • 3 meals & midnight snack served daily for 900 people

The challenge to this recovery was evident in the variety of equipment, connectivity and service necessary to resume full banking operations. The method for success in all three cases was preparation and expertise. Each of these customers had a well-documented and tested recovery plan. These plans followed a basic format and addressed the following tasks:

1. Protect assets: people, data, and facilities.
2. Determine severity of impact
3. Activate recovery plan
4. Relocate to pre-planned site
5. Collect available resources: personnel, equipment, data, information.
6. Restore operational needs: computers,voice/data networks, work areas with LANs/PCs
7. Rebuild processing environment: load data on computers, verify, make available to users
8. Adjust schedules and staffing
9. Resume business processing
10. Initiate plan to repair/rebuild and return

These basic steps enabled the companies to effectively resume their banking operations in the most time efficient manner possible. People knew where to go for guidance and direction. The elements were put into place, the business recovery expertise was available and the business was resumed despite the fear and chaos that occurred around the World Trade Center event.

In today’s high-tech environment, companies operating without well-documented and tested recovery plans (See Figure 2) and pre-determined/pre-tested recovery space will be unable to effectively resume critical business activities, thereby causing significant risk to their respective businesses. Fiduciary’s advanced preparation ensured safety of their employees and service to their customers.

“The World Trade Center situation has been a terrific challenge. But, as a result of how we handled it, employee morale and customer confidence have soared.
Fiduciary Trust International’s successful recovery strategy and business resumption resulted in increased business activity and new customers. They enhanced their market image by demonstrating that they will be there to service their customers, no matter what!
How vulnerable are America’s computer dependent work areas to disaster and disruption? The recent experiences of the World Trade Center located companies provide cause for concern. “Not only are these work areas highly vulnerable to disaster now, they are becoming increasingly vulnerable with time,” states Ray Hipp, President of Comdisco Disaster Recovery Services.”


Anne M. McCarthy, manager of marketing communications, at Comdisco, has over six years experience in the field of corporate planning and business continuity.

This article adapted from Vol. 6 #2.

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