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When a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Pacific Northwest on February 28, buildings swayed, bricks crumbled and glass shattered. Employees who had been working inside these buildings were suddenly forced to run for cover. When the shaking stopped, the employees were evacuated. They poured out onto the streets, sidewalks and parking lots, as they surveyed the damage around them. For some businesses, only minor damage was evident. For others, the destruction was more major.

In this article, you’ll learn what problems businesses encountered and how vendors in the contingency planning industry helped in the recovery.

Comdisco customer declares a disaster

The Pacific Northwest Earthquake forced one of Comdisco’s customers to declare a disaster. Four more customers went on alert within the first eight hours following the earthquake.
When a customer declares a disaster, there are several steps Comdisco officials follow to ensure a smooth recovery for their client.

“We review the customers’ configurations - hardware, networks, etc. We also speak logistics with the customer to find out what they are sending to us, as far as operating systems, data tapes and personnel,” said John Dalisky, Vice President of Operations for Comdisco’s Western Region Operations. “We take a look at their business response plan to see what the customer will need us to do on their behalf.”

Comdisco put two of its recovery centers into action to handle their clients’ needs. The Seattle Business Recovery Center in Renton, Washington, and the Wood Dale Technology Service Center in Wood Dale, Illinois, were used.

Although Mr. Dalisky cannot name the customer who declared a disaster following the Seattle earthquake, he did say they successfully met their recovery goal.

“They recovered within a short time,” he said.

Comdisco was able to implement their standard process for the four customers who went on alert.

“When customers put us on alert status, we review what is in their contract to see what resources the client may need,” said Mr. Dalisky. “We talk to them about changes that may have occurred since their last test.”

“We also review with the client whether the alert is more precautionary or is a likely declaration to use Comdisco resources and facilities,” he said.

Mr. Dalisky said sometimes Comdisco is able to implement a disaster avoidance process for their customers, so that a disaster declaration will not be necessary. For example, after the Seattle earthquake, a customer’s Uninterruptible Power System was damaged. Comdisco was able to source a replacement UPS for the client, allowing the customer the choice to remain in its own facility.

In addition to making contact with those customers who declared an alert or a disaster, Comdisco was also in touch with all of its other customers in the affected area.

“When a disaster occurs, Comdisco makes it a point to contact all customers in the area who could’ve been affected,” said Mr. Dalisky. In this case, they had 30+ customers in the Pacific Northwest that they contacted.

“We set up a command center. We reach out and make phone calls to clients in the area,” he added. “We go on the assumption that all clients in the affected area may need our help until we make contact with them.”

Though the Pacific Northwest earthquake did affect some of Comdisco’s customers, it could have been much worse, said Mr. Dalisky. The depth of the fault on which the quake occurred saved many businesses from potential devastation.

“The earthquake served as a wake up call for a lot of businesses,” he said. “It’s too bad that it has to come to that, but sometimes that’s what it takes to motivate people.”

IBM Reaches Out to Its Customers Following the Earthquake

As soon as the shaking stopped in the Pacific Northwest, IBM sprang into action to contact customers in the area who may have been affected.

“We have quite a few customers in that area,” said Pat Corcoran, Manager, Marketing and Development for IBM Business Continuity and Recovery Services.

“We had no declarations, but we had a few customers put us on alert,” he said. Most of the customers’ concerns were centered on the stability of the facilities.

“After evacuation, the customers weren’t sure if they would be able to get back into their offices. However, after further inspection, they discovered they could. So, we had no customers that had to use our recovery facilities,” said Mr. Corcoran.

IBM’s procedure when a regional disaster occurs is to make contact with all of their clients in that region to see if they need help and recovery assistance.

“If it’s a disaster that we know is going to happen ahead of time - such as a hurricane - we contact our clients prior to the event. But in a case like the Seattle earthquake, we start calling immediately following the disaster,” said Mr. Corcoran.

IBM has a unique feature available to help them reach their customers. It is the GETS (Government Emergency Telephone Service) program.

“If all phone lines into an area are down because of a disaster, we have clearance through the government to use special phone lines to contact our customers,” he explained.

Though this service was not used in the Seattle earthquake, it could be a vital tool in a future disaster. If an earthquake were to strike closer to the surface in the Pacific Northwest or if it were to occur in a city that is less prepared, the GETS program could be instrumental to IBM’s ability to contact its customers.

“For a quake that measured 6.8 on the Richter Scale, I was very impressed with how little damage occurred in the area,” said Mr. Corcoran. “I give a lot of credit to the Pacific Northwest area for how well prepared they were.”

The earthquake and Seattle’s preparedness efforts have once again brought to light the need for contingency planning. Raised awareness is a natural occurrence after a disaster of this type, explained Mr. Corcoran.

With more than 400 successful recoveries to its credit, IBM is comfortable with its process following a disaster, said Mr. Corcoran. “We’ve been doing this for a lot of years. Whether a disaster hits a concentrated or broad area, our process is solid.”

SunGard Responds Quickly To Aid Subscribers

Minutes after the Seattle Earthquake, SunGard’s Crisis Management Team was calling customers to assess damage. Dan Hamill, vice president, Eastern Operations for SunGard Recovery Services called Bob DiLossi, SunGard’s Manager of Customer Support in Philadelphia, about the quake. A few minutes later, Mr. DiLossi, the Crisis Management team leader and the Crisis Management Team went into action creating a Maplink Database report to list SunGard customers within a 200-mile radius of the earthquake. Recovery has nearly 100 customers in that area.

Mr. DiLossi assigned the Customer Support Crisis Management team members in both Philadelphia and Chicago to proactively call customers and find out if the earthquake had caused damage or interrupted their data operations. A team of 25 to 30 people called (and recalled) customers throughout the day, until all subscribers in the affected area had been contacted. Some customers reported that their building had moved but that their equipment was stable. Others lost power temporarily. Most customers reported no problems with their data processing centers. Even though this was a strong earthquake, it did not cause much damage because it occurred 33 miles below the surface.

By 3:30 p.m. EST, the State of Washington, City of Seattle, and five other SunGard clients had placed SunGard on alert.

Meanwhile, Mr. DiLossi coordinated the Resource Management Team and the Mobile Recovery Team, putting them on standby mode should they need to be activated.

The Crisis Management team began operating out of the Crisis Management Center at SunGard’s Philadelphia MegaCenter with constant monitoring of both CNN and the USGS Web site (http://earthquake.usgs.gov/activity/latest/eq_01_02_28.html) for updated reports about the earthquake.

The Crisis Management Team in Philadelphia was assembled for an update at 3:30 p.m. EST.

At that point, CNN was reporting that 17,000 people were without power.

Mr. DiLossi continued to keep subsequent SunGard shifts informed of the customer situation in Seattle. In particular, he was waiting to hear if The State of Washington would be allowed back into their building. There was a concern that the building was damaged and was being inspected. By Friday, March 2, The State of Washington was the last client to take SunGard off alert.

According to Judith Eckles, Director of Marketing Communications, the earthquake did showcase the need for business continuity.

“Natural disasters and situations like the power crisis in California always raise the visibility for the need for a business continuity plan,” she said.
The disaster also provided a chance for SunGard to test their Crisis Management procedures - a test they have passed successfully many times, said Ms. Eckles. “With more than 100 alerts and 26 declared disasters (successfully recovered) during Hurricane Floyd, we really put our Crisis Management system to the test and passed with flying colors. Every disaster comes with its own set of challenges. I think the lessons are always be prepared and flexibility is the key.”

Weyerhaeuser Meets Customers’ Needs Successfully

No clients of Weyerhaeuser Recovery Services declared a disaster, but several companies did evacuate their employees following the earthquake.

According to Gus Bader, Director of Recovery Services, “No disaster declarations were made for Weyerhaeuser and all of our evacuations were a success.”

Weyerhaeuser offers a full service program with facilities serving North America, on both the East and West Coast. These locations support fully populated hot site/recovery capability, associated cold sites, business unit contingency planning resources, and rehearsals.
results could have been much worse

All the vendors interviewed for this article agree that the damage could have been much worse in the Pacific Northwest. Though the depth of the quake had a lot to do with the minimal damage, the area’s efforts to become more prepared played a major role in saving businesses. The lesson learned from this disaster is that it pays to be prepared.