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Volume 30, Issue 4

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After months of rain, major rivers reached record flood levels, breaching levees and flooding cities and businesses throughout the Midwest. The story that follows is an account of one bank’s recovery told by Mike Cannon to Patti Fitzgerald.

“We tested for tornadoes, fires, bomb threats, and earthquakes, but never floods.” explained Mike Cannon, CDRP, Vice President, & Corporate Contingency Planning Manager of Boatmen's Bancshares, Inc., St. Louis, MO. One of Mike’s primary functions is to coordinate, monitor and guide other contingency coordinators at all Boatmen's Bank’s various subsidiaries.


On July 11, at approximately 6:00 a.m. the St. Louis Corporate Headquarters was notified that the Raccoon River had exceeded its banks, and flood waters were headed for downtown Des Moines.

Due to flooding of the power station and the water treatment plant, public officials of Des Moines closed the downtown Business District. Boatmen's Bank has several banking locations throughout the Des Moines area. The main facility is a high-rise office building in the heart of downtown. Although the main facility did not suffer actual flooding, they were forced to evacuate.

The National Guard escorted selected personnel back into the bank for up to 30 minutes to retrieve only vital records, no small equipment such as PCs or typewriters, were allowed to be removed from the facility.

Fortunately, due to comprehensive planning, Boatmen's had previously established a business recovery facility (BRF) at one of their branch locations in Urbandale, IA, (approximately 10 miles from downtown Des Moines). Tables, chairs, fans, PCs, files and other critical supplies were shipped to a vacant floor of the Urbandale facility. It was at this location that they were able to recover the main bank’s critical business functions.

The big problem was the data center-Boatmen's Systems Company. The Systems Company is located about 5 blocks from the main facility and just outside of the downtown business district. The Systems Company was not evacuated, but they were left without electrical power and running water. Immediately, the Systems Company’s Disaster Management Team (DMT) activated their Disaster Recovery Plan. They notified their Unisys/Borroughs Hotsite--Cadre Recovery Services in Avon, CT. The St. Louis Corporate Support Teams quickly responded to the Systems Company DMT requests. St. Louis dispatched the corporate jet filled with bottled water to the Systems Company. Once the corporate jet delivered the bottled water, it was then deployed with personnel and backup tapes to the Cadre hotsite. The hotsite team restored all systems and sat ready and waiting for the “switch-over.” If the flood waters didn't recede and the Systems Company had to be evacuated, the hotsite was ready to go. If, on the other hand, the flood waters didn't reach the Systems Company, they could continue "business as usual."
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Corporate Support Team was able to locate diesel generators to be shipped to the Systems Company, and to the Urbandale facility. The generators arrived Monday , July 12, and were providing power to both facilities by that same evening. The St. Louis team was also responsible for shipping two truckloads of drinking water for the Des Moines employees personal use. This enabled employees to have fresh drinking water without taking time off from the recovery effort to stand in the long lines for water. Boatmen’s First National Bank of Kansas City’s DMT was “johnnie on the spot” to supply portable toilets to the Des Moines facilities.

As the flood waters continued to rise, the Des Moines DMT kept continual communication with the City Officials and the National Guard. The DMT was warned that if the flood waters got any closer, the Systems Company building would have to be evacuated. Minute by minute updates were communicated to the hotsite team that was already in place at Cadre. The real dilemma for the Systems Company was in switching the processing to the hotsite. This would require gathering up thousands of checks and deposits, flying them to Avon, Ct., and then transporting the output back to Des Moines in a timely fashion. The Des Moines DMT wanted to avoid this logistical nightmare if at all possible.


The diesel generators provided power for the computer systems, but not for the air conditioning systems (even though it rained everyday, the humidity averaged 95%). Small generators, fans, portable air conditioners, and dry ice were brought in to keep personnel and equipment cool.

The Des Moines DMT provided the employees with meals and refreshments to all those working the disaster. The bank offered special loan rates to employees that had been personally impacted by the flood.


Several employees began experiencing headaches. The DMT requested that OSHA check the levels of CO2 being released from the dry ice in addition to the level of NO2 being discharged from the diesel generators. OSHA reported the levels to be “within the limits”; however the DMT was not comfortable just waiting for the levels to exceed the limits. They had the diesel exhaust fumes rerouted away from the building, and the use of dry ice was reduced.

Finally the swollen Raccoon River had crested without Boatmen's having to switch processing to the hotsite. The Systems Company continued to process all of Boatmen's business transactions successfully, while in a disaster recovery mode.

But the story doesn’t end here, Boatmen's Bank is the largest bank in the State of Missouri, they have banking locations in eight states throughout the Midwest. The DMTs know the true definition of a Regional Disaster. Here are some of the other Boatmen's Bank facilities affected by the Great Flood of ’93.


As the Great Flood of ’93 rolled down the Mississippi, flood waters were inching up the steps of the Arch in St. Louis. Everyone knew St. Louis was safe with the 52 foot flood wall. But that wasn’t the case for the outlying areas, such as Crystal City, MO, a small town approximately 35 miles south of St. Louis.
Boatmen's Bank’s corporate support team was again called into action to help in Crystal City’s recovery efforts. St. Louis provided personnel to help sandbag the perimeter of the bank. The St. Louis DMT also moved critical equipment and files to an alternate facility. Signs were posted at the original facility and on the main highway, informing customers of the relocation.

As a precaution, bank officials had arranged to move the 2000 safe deposit boxes to the downtown St. Louis banking location. This required the orchestration of accessing a crane to lift the 40 sections of boxes (approx. 50 safe deposit boxes per section) up onto a flatbed truck. The safe deposit boxes then needed to be escorted by Bank security, Internal Auditing, Missouri Highway Patrol, and Crystal City Police to the Boatmens Tower in downtown St. Louis. Once the safe deposit boxes were in place at their new "home" Crystal City bank personnel then proceeded to contact the safe deposit box customers, informing them of where their boxes had been moved .

The Crystal City facility suffered only minor water damage. Three feet of water flooded the bank when a sandbagged wall gave way. The water was immediately pumped out and the sandbagged wall was repaired.


Flash flooding and major levee breaches in the surrounding area alerted the Boatmens Bank’s DMTs in Kansas City. The Burlington and Rockcreek banking locations were put on alert. The Livestock, KS. banking location was closed. All furniture and equipment was removed, the vaults were sealed, and the building was sandbagged. The Kansas City regional warehouse, which houses all the historic records and critical supplies was also in danger of being flooded. As a precaution, the warehouse contents (ten semi-truck loads) were moved to an alternate “high & dry” location. The Excelsior Springs facility located just northeast of Kansas City, was a victim of flash flooding. The facility was flooded, knocking out the power and telecommunications. Mobile generators and air conditioning units had to be brought in to aid in its recovery.

“The most prized possession of the Boatmens Bank employees is a T-shirt that reads: “We Kept The Boat Afloat During The Great Flood of 1993.”

"The Great Flood of ’93 certainly did rock the boat,” said Cannon. "But, thanks to a well organized and well tested contingency planning program we were successful in recovering all of our facilities. The contingency planning teams did a fantastic job coordinating the recovery efforts. Recovery team members at each of the banks knew what to do and followed through. Senior Management took charge and led the way to recovery. It was definitely a team effort.” Mr. Cannon went on to say, “the real irony of this disaster is that the bank was able to process low interest rate loans for the flood victims while the bank itself was recovering from the flood.”


The following list summarizes the lessons learned by many of Boatmens Bank’s contingency planning team members involved in the recovery of the Great Flood of ’93:

  • Keep the call tree current and start the notification process as soon as possible.
  • Do not assume anything. Ask questions and get the facts. Keep everyone informed through frequent daily status reports or meetings.
  • Take action - don't "just wait & see" --"maybe it won't happen to us". Delegate assignments and duties to teams in advance whenever possible.
  • Senior management should get involved in the communications "loop" from the very beginning. They are a valuable resource when you need “clout”, or influence to get things done.
  • Develop a good dialogue with local and national authorities early on, and keep an open line of communication with them.
  • No need to worry about the minor expenses such as food, moving equipment, or overtime pay. In most cases extra expense insurance will cover these items in the event of a disaster. However, you do want to keep good records of your expenses.
  • Include out of town vendors and their telephone numbers in the contingency planning document.
  • Determine power and air conditioning requirements in advance in order to reduce the installation time frames.
  • Use all available communications media in the event of disaster. (radio, TV, newspaper, etc.)
  • Cellular phones should be purchased and assigned to key personnel in advance, you should check with your vendor for "reserve stock" in the event of a disaster.
  • Test! Test! Test! When people understand their role and functions during a disaster, things just seem to fall in place much faster.

Mike Cannon, CDRP, is Vice President of Corporate Contingency Planning for Boatmen's Banschares, Inc., and Patti Fitzgerald, CDRP, is the Advertising Editor and Conference Coordinator for Disaster Recovery Journal.