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Putting out the fire.

Putting Out the Fire AT 10:37 PM ON MAY 4TH LAST YEAR A FIRE AT THE FIRST INTERSTATE Tower was reported to the Los Angeles fire department. As a result of that fire, six floors were totally destroyed, and the building could not be occupied from May 4 to September 6, 1988. That fire became the largest high-rise fire in the history of the United States. The story of how business resumption planning and security forces reacted to the fire, and how we executed our disaster contingency plan, is the focus of this article.

By 10:45 pm, the notification process started for business resumption planning. I was sound asleep when the telephone rang. I was told, "The tower is on fire." When I turned on the TV, all I could see was the tower and some smoke, and I said, "Well, this isn't going to be that significant. I will have to deal with fire on the floor and some smoke." Obviously, that wasn't the case.

By 10:55 pm, I had someone on-site who verified the fire, and by 11 pm, the emergency operations center (EOC) was set up by the bank security group. The EOC used a large conference room with monitors on the ceiling and wall-to-wall white boards. It also had terminals, personal computers (PCs), radio equipment, and anything else needed to deal with a major emergency.

The status boards were put up, and senior management started to gather at the site. The first thing we did was start logging the notification process. It's critical to have a checklist to ensure you have notified the right people.

The next part of the operation was damage assessment by floor. When I walked into the EOC, I saw on the white board a plan of the tower, and across five of the floors was a red line. The word "gone" was written beside them. Fortunately, at that particular point that picture of the damage was inaccurate. The fire was really only on two floors, but before it was over it would spread to six floors.

Something else that started immediately was enhancing the security of the EOC. People who typically do not wear badges on a day-to-day basis--such as the senior executives--were coming into the center, and the press and other individuals wanted information and would attempt to enter the center without permission. In addition to protecting the physical security of the site, we had to devise a badging system for these and other new people that they would find acceptable. We decided to use temporary colored paper badges and photobadges.

Initial planning started at 11:30 pm. By midnight, I had briefed senior management on damage assessment and the course of action. What was particularly helpful in this crisis is the contact I had had with them before. Our program had been a two-and-a-half-year process with close involvement from senior management. They understood our program, and we were familiar to them before the event occurred.

My responsibility for security for the fire dealt with business resumption planning, and bank security was responsible for emergency preparedness and life safety issues. Since the bank was a tenant in the building, we had more of a site security issue than a life safety issue, at least for our security force, because the building has its own security force.

We called in the remainder of our team, tracked the damage as the fire spread, documented the affected units, and then assigned priorities to these units. You should know ahead of time what the financial impact is if you lose that unit--how much you're going to lose every day if that business unit does not operate. We recovered the units in order of potential financial loss. We also started assigning available space. You should know where your available space is and what each critical unit needs to occupy to get back into business.

By 1:30 am, the telecommunication task force was in full operation. We had initiated the telecommunication planning for the relocated units and had Pacific Bell, AT&T, and our own staff on-site. In fact, we had so many people on-site we had to send some vendors home because there was nothing they could do. As we were assigning space to the relocated units, these people started planning how to deploy the instruments and support them.

We understood the capacity of each of those facilities, so we knew what excess capacity we had prior to this event. We also had a sufficient supply of extra instruments and handsets to deploy. All in all, we deployed 800 phones in two days.

By 2:00 am, we were dealing with the process of redirecting incoming and outgoing mail. Typically the tower had 125,000 incoming pieces of mail and 9,800 outgoing pieces of mail daily. So redirecting the mail is important as you relocate business units.

By 2:20 am, the fire was suppressed. By 3:30 am, we had notified the restoration specialists. Restoration specialists are the people who clean the PCs, the building, and the paperwork and take care of the recovery of all the contents of the building. Six months prior to the fire, we were involved in disaster planning for an earthquake and had contacted a restoration specialist group in Fort Worth, TX. Ironically, the group was planning to come out to do a formal presentation that week.

When I contacted the group I said, "I don't want a presentation. I want you here, and I want you here now." The group was at the EOC by 9:30 am.

By 4:30 am, the public affairs unit was activated. This is an emergency function of public affairs. I cannot stress enough the need to have a system in place to deal with the inquiries of the press. You cannot stonewall in dealing with a major crisis. You have to have public affairs officers in place to provide accurate information to the press. The more accurate information you can give them, the more accurately the story will be presented.

We met with members of the press at 6:30 am at the fire site and invited them into the EOC later that afternoon. Again, their visit was a controlled process. A public affairs officer was with them at all times.

By 7:00 am, 40 phones were in place for public affairs officers dealing with all the inquiries. Phones are important and are especially so to banks. The Federal Reserve Bank was on the phone between 8:00 and 8:30 am. By 10:00 am, the Federal Reserve was satisfied that we had indeed started the relocation process and had people back in business.

One of the theories in recovery planning is to keep it simple. Though we originally had 3,000 phone numbers in the tower, we decide we only needed three numbers--one dealing with the press, one dealing with employees and customers, and one dealing with the EOC.

By 7:30 am, we were moving phones and equipment in and had started the relocation of the business units. By 8:00 am, all the vendors knew what had happened.

We also had to devise an emergency telephone directory. As these people were moved to new units and assigned new telephone numbers, we collected that information and got it back to the operators as quickly as possible. We used a manual process initially and then within a week put the numbers on-line.

By 1:00 pm, we started daily planning sessions with the real estate division. We decided where to relocate the units based on space available, but the personnel in that division had to make it happen.

By 2:00 pm, I met with the press for the first time. I had had about 15 minutes' sleep in a day and a half, but I felt it was important to answer their questions as coherently as possible and to cooperate.

THIS ROUGH OUTLINE OF WHAT transpired after the event indicates the importance of planning. We were able to put together such an effective crisis plan because management recognized earlier an unacceptable level of risk. We showed them what they might lose in a one- to 10-day time frame, using dollars by unit. They compared that to the dollars it would take to recover the operation and thus were willing to approve the project.

In 1985 funds were allocated for the initiation of business resumption planning. In 1986 the staffing started.

What were some of our major security concerns those first few days? Access to the area was a significant one. The first 10 days after the fire, access was extremely restricted. Many people were in and out--investigators, life safety people, and city officials. Though we had 2,000 employees, we were only allowed a maximum of 30 employees in there at any one time, including the security officers. So we had to focus on retrieving work in progress and restrict what people could take out. In our case, we said one box.

We moved 240 people per day in and out of that building and still met the city requirements of only 30 at a time. We put an access list on a data base and then timed the travel time in, 15 minutes on the floor, and travel time out.

We also were responsible for minimizing damage to the equipment and documents. Even though five floors were totaled, all documents were not. Everything else on the floor was burned but because the documents were compressed we were able to pull them out, remove the charred pieces, and clean them.

In addition to that recovery process, smoke and soot combined with high humidity or water acted as a corrosive agent on the hardware. Every piece of data processing hardware and every document was covered with this stuff. The restoration experts dealt with that. Over 9,000 pieces of hardware were cleaned, and that means all the PCs were broken down to their basic components, were washed, were put back together and tested, had data extracted, were certified, had data put back on, and were returned to the owners.

Security of the building becomes a very tough job. The restoration companies collected 2,000 people off the streets of Los Angeles to do the cleaning in the tower. We had a microcosm of the city in the building. Everything they did outside, they would try to do inside. Theft, use of narcotics, and even assault occurred.

We also had to consider toxins in the environment and the building that might require us to wear protective clothing. The air, the surface of the desks, and the elevator shafts had to be tested and protective clothing found for those workers who might be exposed to those toxins.

Insurance is an obvious issue. You must plan ahead and understand what your coverage is. You must be actively involved with the adjusters. Unfortunately, we had not gotten to that point in our disaster planning exercise.

Employee communications is essential. You have to communicate to your employees to control rumors. You must allow them to stay involved in the recovery process, and you have to deal with the psychological impact. When people are removed from a building they have worked in for 10 years, it is traumatic. We had a psychologist and staff on-site by the following Monday morning, five days later.

To succeed at disaster planning, you have to examine the recovery of business and determine what is needed to continue dealing with customers. Consider the telephones, the personnel, the supplies, the forms, and the rooms. Then you ask: What are the data processing applications that support this business unit, and what are the interdependencies of other units that provide information? It has to be a business-driven planning process, a risk-based program focused on the greatest potential loss.

Whatever the possible disasters in your business, remember that a well-organized plan with the support and involvement of management is essential. Then when the worst happens, you will be ready.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:disaster contingency plan for high-rise fire at First Interstate Bank of California, Los Angeles
Author:Emerson, Cole H.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jun 1, 1989
Words:2011
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