I would like to share an unusual experience with you. While I was watching the news on Friday (June 15), the local television news station was reporting on a ruptured water pipe that was flooding a building. The reporter explained that around 1:00 p.m. a construction crew working in the parking lot next to the building stuck and ruptured a 6-inch water pipe. The resulting flood sent thousands of gallons of water into the first floor of the building (which sits below ground level).
The 300 people who work in the building were evacuated. Philadelphia firefighters quickly brought in pumps and other equipment to attempt to prevent the water from reaching a 13,200 volt transformer that was located on the first floor. They were concerned about the potential for an explosion if the water reached the transformer.
This is not an unusual story. First, we’re all used to seeing our television station reporting on local disasters on the nightly news. Second, the report was that a construction crew had accidently struck the water pipe located in the parking lot for the building. I’m sure we’ve all heard of similar incidents.
What was unusual about this story was the reporter I was watching, Dann Cuellar, was reporting on the flood in his building. The flood was knocking out the operations at the Philadelphia ABC affiliate, Channel 6.
Channel 6 did have a contingency plan. They had a computerized autopilot that would continue the stations operations. But this was the first time it was to be used in a crisis. "For the first time in history, without anyone in the building, 6abc went on unmanned computerized autopilot. We never went off air. We have an automated system in our master control so we hit that button and we all evacuated," said Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager of 6abc.
While Philadelphia Water Department and Philadelphia Gas Works worked to find the shut off valve, the station was faced with another dilemma: How to continue to keep our Action News viewers informed of all the day’s news?
With the cooperation of the management at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, next door neighbors of Channel 6, a hole was cut in the fence separating the two properties. Producers, clerical workers, and other Channel 6 station personnel began setting up a makeshift studio in a grassy lot between the Channel 6 and Phila. College of Osteopathic Medicine buildings.
Almost three hours later came good news. The water department found the shut off valve for ruptured pipe, the TV station personnel allowed back inside. The station never had to use the makeshift studio in the grassy lot.
In a way it’s a shame they couldn’t have used it; they could have proved out their contingency plan, and they could have broadcast a first in Philadelphia. To the best of my recall, and I’ve lived in and around Philadelphia all my life, I can’t remember any TV station reporting the news from a grassy-lot makeshift studio.
A key business continuity lesson we can learn from this crisis – it’s the people that recover the company. "Everybody came together" said Campbell. "It’s not about the building, it’s about the people. Everybody just rallied today."
Thank you Ms. Campbell. This concept is one that many of the business continuity professionals have been trying to communicate to the executives of organizations we work with. The success attained following a crisis or disaster, is due to the efforts of the people in the organization. It’s not about the plan, it’s about the people.
As I finished my column and prepared to send it to DRJ, I became aware of a tragedy in Charleston, S.C. Fire swept through the Sofa Super Store and warehouse in Charleston, collapsing its roof and claiming the lives of nine firefighters. Prior to the collapse, two employees in the building were rescued from the blaze by firefighters. One was rescued quickly, and firefighters punched a hole through a wall of the warehouse to reach the other.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how this tragedy reinforces another lesson for business continuity professionals. The nine firefighters died doing their job, saving citizens in harms way. The firefighters first priority is to save people, the second is to control the fire.
Firefighting is a profession that we must never take for granted. We should interface with our firefighters when we build our plans. We should have them advise us when we exercise our plans. We should recognize their commitment to their profession and try to emulate them when it comes to our profession.