Businesses in northern and central England have deployed their business continuity plans after sustained heavy rainfall flooded offices and left IT centres inaccessible throughout the region.
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Insurers estimate that the cost to repair physical damage across the country will run to £1bn. Among the organisations affected by the floods were steel company Sheffield Forgemasters and Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.
Keith Tilley, managing director at disaster recovery firm SunGard Availability Services, said, "This is the biggest multiple-company incident we have had after the 7 June London bombings in 2005 and the Buncefield oil depot fire in 2006."
Staff at Sheffield Chamber of Commerce had to be winched to safety by an RAF helicopter on Monday evening.
Director Stephen Mitchell, who was among those rescued, said that although the chamber's systems were backed up regularly and long-term damage would be minimal, it had been difficult to help businesses with the crisis because the chamber's own IT system had not been working. Parts of the e-mail system also had to be replaced at a cost of up to £3,000.
Law firm Irwin Mitchell relocated staff after the floods caused £1m in damage to its Sheffield offices. Richard Hodkinson, group IT and operations director, said that staff working at the offsite SunGard disaster recovery centre managed to keep services to clients running despite power disruptions.
"People worked well into the night, determined to get resolution to these problems. It brought the best out for the IT team and pulled them together," Hodkinson said.
EWS Railway's datacentre south-east of Doncaster was also hit by the flooding. CIO Guy Mason said, "Work on essential projects and strategy has stopped, despite not losing systems. It is still a real cost."
The experience has brought the IT department and the users closer together, he said. "I have never seen them talking together more than this week."
David Fletcher, a director at investment company Creative Sheffield, said, "Smaller companies may not survive this, but larger companies will mostly pull through because they usually have the financial resources."
John Sharp, policy and development director at business continuity resource the Continuity Forum, said the floods had shown that business continuity was essential for every business, no matter what size or type.
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