After the first terror attacks of Sept. 11--and shortly before tons of debris buried its offices--the New York Board of Trade, a commodities-futures and options exchange, safely evacuated all 260 of its employees from 4 World Trade Center. Mark Fichtel, the exchange's CEO, says, "We were incredibly lucky." But it wasn't luck that six days later traders were back at work bidding on coffee, cocoa and orange juice futures at a makeshift facility just across the East River in Queens. That quick relocation was the fruit of a detailed contingency plan put in place nearly seven years ago and constantly refined, at a cost of more than $300,000 a year.
It was the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center that spurred the Board of Trade and many other firms in and around the Twin Towers to better protect their employees and their data, and to provide for a quick resumption of business in the event of a crisis. And since last month's terror attacks on the Trade Center and the Pentagon, executives around the U.S. and the world have been taking action to reduce the risks to their employees and their businesses. Evacuation plans are being scrutinized, and corporate security consultants are being inundated with requests for "crisis-management" reviews.
The stakes are high for both lives and property. According to Gartner Research, based in Boston, 40% of businesses that are hit by disasters such as earthquakes and fires close within two years. "Companies that can't get up and running within 10 days aren't likely to survive," says Colin Rankine of the Giga Information Group, an IT advisory firm in Cambridge, Mass. Here are some of the measures firms are adopting to improve their odds.
--Develop a Smart Evacuation Plan
For Morgan Stanley Dean Witter--the World Trade Center's largest tenant, with 3,700 employees--sticking with its evacuation plan was critical to saving lives. Although someone on the south tower's public-address system informed workers that it was safe to return to their offices, Morgan's security officers kept them moving down dozens of flights of stairs. The result: all but six employees escaped. "Everybody knew about the contingency plan," said a Morgan spokesman. "We met constantly to talk about it."
Luck, of course, played a massive role: 700 employees of Cantor Fitzgerald, which occupied floors above Morgan's, had no way of getting out. But many of Wall Street's brokerage houses and other firms were able to evacuate the bulk of their workers because of oft-repeated drills. Employees of the Japanese firm Mizuho had emergency kits with burn cream, "smoke hoods" and glow sticks strapped to the backs of their chairs.
Despite the nationwide run on gas masks, security experts say it's not practical for corporations to stockpile them. "Most masks are good for one thing--say, a certain chemical or biological agent, and there's a shelf life to the canisters. They won't last indefinitely," says Dave Maples, a security consultant with Investigative Group International in Atlanta. But one employee-benefits-management company outside Atlanta may have the right idea: since the attacks, it has purchased house painters' masks for all employees to filter out dust and soot. "That's practical," says Maples.
--Back Up Your Bits and Bytes