When the attack at the World Trade Center began, Honey said employees’ first reactions were shock and disbelief.
“It’s a normal reaction. No one expects anything like this to occur,” he said.
But almost immediately, emergency management personnel jumped into action and started the evacuation process.
“It worked well,” he said.
“We had just recently done a complete overhaul of our plans. Of course it is difficult to plan for a disaster of the magnitude that occurred on September 11, but our plan worked and did what it was supposed to do. Our employees were evacuated safely.”
Within a few minutes of the evacuation Merrill Lynch was able to switch its critical management functions to their command center in New Jersey, explained Honey. Since the command center had been pre-designated in corporate-wide contingency plans, all personnel immediately knew where to dial into and transfer information. This allowed transactions throughout the company’s global offices to continue as usual.
The company’s headquarters sustained some damage, including broken windows and fallen debris. But the main difficulty for the company has been access to the building, since the firm’s headquarters is located in what has been termed ‘ground zero’ - the space immediately surrounding the World Trade Center. Honey and several others on the team entered their headquarters shortly after the disaster to do an initial damage assessment, but employees have not been permitted to return.
“Gaining full access to the building could be weeks or even longer,” said Honey. “Right now the whole area is cordoned off and all efforts are focused on rescue and recovery.”
Instead, employees from the affected buildings have been moved into other existing Merrill Lynch facilities. Merrill Lynch had 8000 employees back at work by Monday, September 17.
“We took advantage of all existing Merrill facilities,” explained Honey about the employee relocations.
Merrill Lynch is prepared to maintain its business operations outside of the building for as long as necessary. When the exchanges opened on Monday, Merrill Lynch was ready. “It has taken a massive effort by all of our employees, but it is business as usual at Merrill Lynch. We were very, very well prepared,” said Honey.
He credits extensive testing and upgrading of the contingency plans with keeping Merrill Lynch on track during this chaotic event. The firm had recently tested their plans via a scenario very equal in impact to the terrorist attacks. The test was not a terrorist attack, emphasized Honey, but it was a disaster of similar scope and had an equal impact on the business.
Merrill Lynch also upgraded their plans and testing procedures following the Y2K experience. “The Y2K tests really helped us to prepare for this event. During that time, we had 60 command centers around the world. We honed our plans and testing then, and have since improved our contingency planning efforts,” said Honey. “We learned a lot during the Y2K planning stages and leveraged that knowledge to upgrade and improve our command center operations.”
Another beneficial feature for the firm has been the support of Merrill Lynch’s senior management. According to Honey, these individuals recognized the need for upgrading and testing of the firm’s corporate-wide plans and were willing to invest in getting it done properly.
“We are actively involved in keeping our plan current and are even backing up our backup plans,” said Honey.
Currently, Merrill Lynch is focused on stabilizing their business operations and their employees. Employee assistance is a main goal.
“We’re making sure counseling is available. We’re running through safety plans so that employees are familiar with their new locations’ procedures,” explained Honey. The counselors the firm brought in gained hands-on experience during the bombing in Oklahoma City.
Merrill Lynch is also working with other brokerage firms in the area to coordinate recovery efforts.
“This event not only affected a company, but an entire industry,” he said. “But the most important aspect has been the human side. We’re taking care of our employees. That’s what counts. Our employees are the firms greatest asset.”
Janette Ballman is an Editor for DRJ.