Each team member contributed his or her expertise to the plan. Corporate communications were charged with identifying the key audiences that would need to be kept informed for the duration of the emergency, the means to reach them, and the communications materials that would be employed. The HR team took responsibility for accounting for each and every MBIA employee who may be affected, as well as follow-up counseling and benefits administration as needed. With staff safety as its No. 1 priority, corporate administration would handle damage assessment and repair, and relocation of staff and equipment to a back-up facility.
A core IT team met with representatives from MBIA’s business units to assess their system needs in case of emergency. Using this information, the team began drafting a new response and recovery plan and timeframes, assessed mission-critical applications, and designed new storage, back-up, and recovery architecture that would better meet the requirements of the business.
The next order of business was to find a better location for MBIA’s backup systems. “The sheer distance from Armonk made the Denver backup site difficult from a planning and operational perspective,” said Kimberly Osgood, project leader.
In November 2000, the decision was made to move the new backup site to King of Prussia, Penn., where MBIA’s asset management subsidiary, 1838 Investment Advisors, is located.
“The move would allow us to transport people and equipment easily and quickly,” said Osgood. “Given the total shutdown of the nation’s airlines after 9-11, that decision was more than validated.”
With fully redundant systems housed at 1838 (and conversely, 1838’s backup systems located in Armonk), as well as a fully functional network with access to the Internet and the MBIA regional data centers, the team evaluated every conceivable disaster scenario and established procedures and timeframes for restoring network applications.
The next step was how to communicate site, system and personnel status to employees, particularly if there had been a catastrophic event at the Armonk location. The team decided it wanted to build an emergency Web site, which employees could access from anywhere in the world. Among other features, it would offer up-to-the-minute reports on the status of the affected facility, an employee check-in feature, e-mail access, information on application availability, and access to available applications through this network portal.
The core IT team contacted The Gartner Group, a business and technology-consulting firm in Stamford, Conn., to find out if there was a prototype for the kind of Web site it wanted to build.
According to Gartner, none existed. IT would have to identify all of the functionality they wanted in the emergency site and have it built from scratch.
After meeting with a local Internet design company and reviewing its $190,000 proposal for the project, the team determined that the designer couldn’t meet the needs and deadlines for the project. Besides, Steve Sherman – a relatively new member of MBIA’s IT applications team – was determined he could build it himself.
Beginning in November 2001, that’s exactly what he did, with help from his co-workers. “It was really a team effort,” said Sherman. “The site could not have been built without the efforts of the entire core team, and our intern, Michelle Camarneiro.”
Together they identified the information that would be included on the site, and reviewed the progress of its development with the team weekly. Despite the high level of functionality required, the site had to be easy to use – “intuitively obvious,” according to Sherman – and built with technology that would allow it to run under any Web browser and from the most minimal of configurations. For example, the site should be accessible from an airport kiosk.
Sherman and Camarneiro, an intern from Manhattanville College with no previous experience in Web development, spent more than 500 hours on the project – at virtually no incremental cost for the company.
“We invested in a two-day Web development class for Michelle,” said Sherman. “She became an integral part of the project team.”
“It was a wonderful learning experience for me,” said Camarneiro. “I was able to contribute to a critical business need, and obtain valuable work/life experience as well.”
While the site was already in development on Sept. 11, 2001, it was influenced by the events of the day. “We took into consideration the kinds of problems companies were having in terms of accounting for and communicating with their employees,” said Sherman.
That’s why one of the key features of the employee emergency Web site is a function allowing employees to “check in.” It even allows an employee to account for other co-workers if they can’t do it themselves.
“More than anything,” said Kimberly, “Sept. 11 confirmed our thought process about everything we’d set out to do with our disaster response and recovery plan.”
Of course, the hope is that MBIA will never have to use all the measures this plan puts into place, and that any disasters in the future will be like Y2K: all threat and no sweat. But the reality is that the World Trade Center attack is a testament to a changed world.
No one has the luxury of thinking “It can’t happen here,” because it did.
With MBIA’s new disaster response and recovery plan and its state-of-the-art emergency employee Web site, the company will be able to provide business continuity to its clients and associates no matter what crisis it may face.
Jude Westerfield is a freelance business writer from Ossining, N.Y.