London's business continuity plans pass the test as City wakes up to terrorist threat

Most London firms were able to carry on business as usual after the recent terrorist bomb attacks, but they highlighted the importance of careful planning

Most London firms were able to carry on business as usual after the recent terrorist bomb attacks, but they highlighted the importance of careful planning

London's businesses coped well in the wake of the terrorist bomb attacks two weeks ago.

The number of organisations directly affected was small, but it included important institutions such as the London Stock Exchange, the London Metal Exchange, and a number of City banks.

"We think that within London, 3,000 companies had disaster recovery provisions," said Andy Tomkinson, director of the Business Continuity Institute.

"Of those we reckon about 100 put their disaster recovery on standby, which is relatively few. Out of those we think fewer than 10 actually had users moving from the primary location to the disaster recovery site."

The London Stock Exchange asked traders to turn off their computerised "black box" trading, to limit volatility on the stock market. It also released traders from their obligations to quote firm buying and selling prices, freeing them to keep pace with rapidly changing prices.

Staff at the London Metal Exchange, which is close to the site of the Aldgate tube bomb, were unable to reach their offices after the police sealed off the area.

The exchange was forced to abandon trading on its open out-cry trading floor and had to fall back on electronic and telephone trading.

"A lot of the companies which would trade on the exchange were also affected. They were concerned about the welfare of their staff," said a spokesman.

When trading resumed, dealers were able to use the Select electronic trading system, a Java-based platform which allows exchange members to buy and sell from desktop machines in their own offices. Trades were also made directly with dealers over the phone.

Contingency planning by LCH.Clearnet, the financial clearing house, ensured that trading at the London Metal Exchange and other City exchanges continued smoothly. LCH offices in Aldwych were evacuated and staff moved to a back-up centre from Thursday until Tuesday 12 July.

Prudential UK was able to fall back on sophisticated communications systems to help its managers with emergency planning. The firm had recently digitised its business continuity plans, and was able to deliver them electronically to 60 managers, using their Blackberry handhelds, during the crisis. The system, supplied by Lan 2 Lan, allows the plans to be automatically updated.

The Swiss merchant bank UBS evacuated its offices near Liverpool Street after police requests. "Our contingency plans were in place, they were implemented and were very effective," said a spokeswoman. "The systems were fully operational."

Sainsbury's was among the high-street retailers to face indirect disruption as a result of the blasts. "We had three store closures, two for a very short period  and one for the best part of a day following an incident at Fulham Broadway," said Steve Mellish, head of business continuity.

"On the second day we wanted to keep it 'business as usual'. We accepted that there would be transport disruption, so with line management agreement people could work from home or from their local stores," he said.

Cable & Wireless and neighbouring businesses were asked to evacuate staff from offices in Holborn in the aftermath of the explosions. Like other telecoms operators, Cable & Wireless experienced unprecedented congestion on the networks, but its networks proved "resilient," the firm said.

Mobile phones of little use >>


Business continuity plans kick in

Businesses throughout London put disaster recovery suppliers on standby as the full scale of the bombing incidents began to unfold.

Thirteen firms, mainly large insurance companies and underwriters, and one major retailer contacted disaster recovery specialist NDR, which put 20 engineers and three articulated lorry-sized mobile data centres on standby.

In the end two organisations said they wanted to invoke disaster recovery plans, said John Wordley, sales and marketing director.

One firm sent its 10-strong crisis management team to NDR's disaster recovery centre in Old Street, but decided not to invoke its business continuity plan.

Disaster recovery specialist SunGard received 84 alerts from businesses and 28 customers had to involve the service when they found they were unable to gain access to their premises.

SunGard runs six emergency computer centres in London, and three beyond the M25. In the aftermath of the bombings, most firms requested back up sites in central London, with a few opting for the extra security of sites outside the capital.

"We still have one customer currently on site working in live production.

"Other customers did it for a shorter period, some for a day, others over the week-end," said Keith Tilley, managing director of SunGard's availability services.

Globalswitch runs two computer centres in Docklands. Its commercial director Julian King said, "Quite a number of companies invoked their disaster recovery plans.

"We had a number of requests from customers who wanted reassurance that our building would remain online and be resilient. There was a lot of concern about how this would affect businesses."


Are you prepared?

  • Ask how your firm would fare if significant numbers of employees were unable to get to work
  • Set up procedures to identify staff who might be affected by such an event
  • Ensure you can communicate through multiple channels with your staff. Remember that mobile phone networks are usually ineffective around the immediately affected area and may get overloaded
  • Develop a crisis management capability and establish who will make decisions
  • Develop succession plans and cross-train people accordingly
  • Ensure that people can work from home or appropriate alternative locations.

Source: Gartner

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