Disasters Through Time

Disasters come in different shapes and sizes with varying short term and long term impacts.  Some disasters are more significant in terms of human loss and suffering and some are more significant in their impacts on businesses and commerce.

Business continuity and disaster recovery planning historically focused on those disasters that impacted businesses and commerce, but recent events, beginning with the World Trade Center attacks, have required business planners to also incorporate emergency response and crisis management techniques that focus on the human element in their programs.

Looking back in time, the first significant business interruption event to occur promoting the concepts of disaster recovery and business continuity was the First Interstate Bank fire in Los Angeles.  This event occurred on the night of May 4, 1988 and really brought the need and justification for disaster recovery and business continuity planning to the forefront of executive board rooms and has served as the first real case study for these practices ever since.

It was only four days later on May 8, 1988 that a Bell Telephone Central Office in Hinsdale, IL caught fire and disrupted phone services to a wide area of IL including much of Chicago.  Within days, we had one event that severely impacted the entire operations of a large financial firm and one event that had a limited, but widespread impact to phone services for hundreds of companies.  And, the practice of disaster recovery and business continuity gained credibility and importance.

Over the next few years there were a number of newsworthy business interruption events caused by hurricanes, snow storms collapsing roofs, fires, and others, but nothing of great significance until the bombing of the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993.  This event impacted a significant number of large firms requiring alternate site recovery into vendor provided disaster recovery facilities that stretched the limits of these offerings requiring some firms to recover in secondary and tertiary facilities greatly distanced from their home location.

The 1993 bombings, of course, was just a precursor to the tragic events of 9/11/2001.  The attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 highlighted the deficiencies in corporate business continuity programs with regards to the immediate emergency response and crisis management stratagems.  Many impacted firms knew where and how to recover technology and work areas but were not prepared to deal with the immediate needs of responding to a crisis with such severe impacts to its facilities and employees.  This event put the focus on the Crisis Management aspects of a holistic Enterprise Recovery Program.

Like the World Trade Center tragedy, Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Southeastern United States on August 28th, 2005 challenged both the emergency response and business continuity aspects for many companies over a large geographic footprint. 

Each and every one of these events brought with them unique challenges and varying response requirements.  And, each event, in the post-event evaluations, provided plenty of lessons learned and opportunities for all of us to improve and expand our own disaster recovery, business continuity and crisis management programs.

Of less impact in all areas, but one of my favorite (if that is the right term to use) business interruption event was the Chicago River Flood in September of 1991.  This event occurred on a beautiful end of Summer Day when a construction error while reinforcing a bridge crossing the Chicago River punctured a whole in an old underground highway flooding the basements in many Chicago Loop area buildings.  Some of these buildings housed computer and electrical equipment in the buildings resulting in severe widespread business interruptions.  It just goes to show you, you never know when, where or how a business disaster might occur.

There have been, of course many other events, to numerous to mention in one blogs, but, I think, these events highlight the growth and changing nature of the business continuity, disaster recovery and crisis management industry in the US.  I think it is always good to go back and revisit these events every now and then to make sure the lessons learned from them have not been forgotten over time.

Thank you for your input.