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Offsite IT and good processes mitigate firm’s Holborn fire

UNEXPECTED and potentially catastrophic events can happen to any business and planning for crisis should be a cornerstone for all firms, be they large or small.

On 1 April, just before the Easter weekend, Alliotts’ business continuity plan took centre stage when a major fire broke out in Holborn, central London, near our offices at 15 Kingsway.

Against a background of dramatic scenes of smoke billowing out from manhole covers in the road, all 70 staff in the building had to be evacuated at short notice with no firm date as to when and if we would be allowed to return.

As we have regular fire drills our staff knew what to do, calmly and without fuss. However, it quickly became apparent that this was no dress rehearsal.

Ian Davies, the partner in charge of facilities in the London office took over and implemented our business continuity plan along with designated members of his team. Our business continuity plan was drafted many years ago and we revisit it regularly to make sure it still meets our needs.

Hosted servers

As part of this process, 12 months ago we took the decision to move our servers to a hosted environment and this proved to be one of the best decisions that we have made as our IT systems were unaffected by this incident.

The plan addresses key elements including personal safety, communication and business continuity. By working with internal line managers, our HR and marketing teams and our IT support providers at Taylor Made, we ensured that disruption was kept to the very minimum.

Staff were sent to our offices in Guildford or given the option to work remotely. We were able to adjust the remote login system to allow more staff to access the systems from home and business carried on as usual with no disruption for clients.

We kept channels of communication open at all times and clients were kept up to date via email, personal phone calls, the website and social media. Staff were easily contactable via a text messaging system so were able to update them as to the accessibility of the building.

Communication channels

Over the Easter break, the Fire Brigade worked hard to identify the cause and source of the fire, which was finally extinguished on Good Friday. They then had to assess the extent of the damage before allowing access to the building. At one point carbon monoxide levels in Imperial House were twice the permitted level.

The speed at which everyone adapted to the change in circumstances and did their utmost to ensure that our clients did not suffer was exceptional and reinforces that we have a strong team here at the firm. We were able to gain access to our office again on Tuesday 7 April, which was ahead of our expectations. The road still remains closed to traffic and it will be some days before things return to normal.

In terms of lessons learned, moving our computer servers offsite has definitely proved to be a decision well-made and I am also pleased that rapid expansion of our remote login system was handled so efficiently by our IT support providers.

However, I think one of the most important lessons learned for a number of staff was to make sure they leave a spare set of house keys with a neighbour. We had several members of our team who were unable to gain access to their homes over Easter because they had left their keys in the office.

Colin Farmer (pictured) is London managing partner of Alliotts

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