Business continuity – worse case scenarios

At 2am on the morning of 21 August the home phone rang. My wife passed me the
receiver and a chap with a marked Birmingham accent delivered the line “Hello
sir, just called to say your office is on fire”.

This was either a very vivid nightmare or a disaster. Sadly, having pinched
myself, and verified it as our security monitoring centre I realised it was the

Carpenter Box operates three offices based very close together in Worthing.
It’s a long story, but basically a lady, who prefers to live on the streets with
three shopping trolleys full of belongings, had parked them against the rear of
our building in our car park while she slept next to them. Unbelievably, a group
of delinquents set the trolleys alight.

Happily, the lady escaped ­ but unfortunately for us her trolleys and the
four propane/butane cylinders she carried in them to cook with created a
fireball that exploded through a sash window causing unbelievable damage to our
three person tax office. An adjacent office was also damaged when an external
wooden door burned through.

In 2000, I was a partner in a law firm with an office in Lewes. We lost an
office to the floods and it was my job to deal with the aftermath (which
included swimming to dry land when the flood struck!).

Although the scale of my latest emergency was significant, it wasn’t
catastrophic. The damage to the offices concerned was extensive but the
situation was contained.

Nevertheless in the words of our CEO the fact that we had a business
continuity plan (BCP) “turned a crisis into a non-event”. I called the BBC and
local press in and put over our message which was “look ­ we’ve had a fire but
we’re fine”. We were featured three times on regional TV news, once on live
radio and also in the local print press.

If you haven’t got one, for a relatively small investment of time, a BCP can
help save your business.

Start with the obvious: contact numbers; IT plans; contingencies for
relocation ­ there’s plenty of free info around ­ just get googling!

Do make sure fire doors get closed ­ particularly when the building is going
to be empty. Without ours we would have lost a 3,000 sq ft building. If you have
an alarm system with smoke detectors get it connected to your monitored burglar
alarm system.

Do take office insurance seriously ­ understand the business interruption
(BI) and loss of profit (LoP) clauses and be realistic about sums insured. Find
a good loss assessor before you have an incident ­ do it by recommendation. They
are worth their weight in gold.

If the worst happens, get the press involved as a way of letting clients know
the business is fine. Get your message out rather than leave it to the media to
Also create a new time recording code to show how much chargeable time is being
lost ­ all good for the BI and LoP claim.

It’s early days, but this fire has already caused me to re-assess parts of
the plan and it will be better for this experience but three months down the
line once the building work is finished it will be all over.

And pestilence? Well, two out of three is enough ­ let’s leave it at that!

Chris Coopey is director of Carpenter Box

Related reading