The horrific events of 9-11 had an unforgettable impact on the lives of three panelists who took part in a roundtable discussion on disaster recovery planning at last month's Electric 2002 trade show in New York.

Jim Usher, vice president, E-J Communications Systems, Long Island City, N.Y.; David Weinstein, vice president of operations, Kennedy Electrical Supply Corp., Jamaica, N.Y.; and Doug Sandberg, director of operations, ASCO, Florham Park, N.J.; helped New York recover from the disaster during the weeks that followed.

Usher knew the World Trade Center more intimately than most people. His company, E-J Communications Systems, Long Island City, N.Y., installed the WTC complex's security system, which included 400 cameras and an I.D. badge system for the 50,000 workers and 100,000-plus monthly visitors (See CEE News, January 2001, p. 1). The system stored information for 18 months on when employees and visitors entered and left the building. The photos and personnel records from the system were backed up at a small California computer company that had developed the system, and these backup records proved vital in identifying the whereabouts of employees and visitors on 9-11.

Usher was always a big believer in the need for off-site data storage. But he gained new respect for some of the basic training that he had as a volunteer fireman — to always know the locations of the stairwells in a building. When staying in a hotel or visiting a high-rise building, he also always counts the number of doors from his hotel room or the office to the stairwell exit, in the event that hallways are filled with smoke or debris during an emergency.

Usher also came to appreciate the engineering behind the design of the WTC. He said while about 3,000 lives were lost, the buildings' construction allowed more than 40,000 people to escape.

David Weinstein and his employees at Kennedy Electrical Supply Corp. also saw action at the World Trade Center on September 11. One of the company's trucks was at the site when the plane hit, and the driver took on so many passengers that some had to hang on the truck's fenders and bumpers for the ride out of lower Manhattan.

Weinstein helped organize a national call for supplies throughout the electrical industry to help the rescue efforts. Seven 20-ft flatbed loads of materials came in, including supplies from the largest of manufacturers sending in thousands of dollars of material, to small electrical contractors who could only afford to send along used tools.

He agrees that 9-11 has reinforced the importance of backup computer and communications systems, and off-site data storage, as well as the need to have emergency contact information for all employees, vendors and key manufacturers. Kennedy Electrical Supply now two different cell phone service providers, backup Web access and e-mail accounts and has undergone “what-if” disaster scenario training. “My mentality is that it is going to happen again,” he said.

ASCO saw the WTC bombings from a different perspective. Doug Sandberg said ASCO lost $1 million in service contracts for backup power system equipment with companies located in the World Trade Center. Sandberg says the Y2K scare in 2000 helped the recovery efforts, because companies had taken precautions to keep their systems running.

ASCO now has more replacement equipment stored in Manhattan in case of another emergency situation, because in the days following 9-11, it was difficult to get deliveries into the city.

Disaster Planning Pointers

  • Conduct “what-if” disaster scenarios to develop and refine your disaster recovery plans.

  • Have a list of phone numbers and personal contact information for all employees, suppliers manufacturers and other key business partners.

  • Back-up all critical computer information off-site, and if possible, have a back-up computer system off-site.

  • Make sure all company vehicles have adequate emergency/first aid equipment. Don't forget drinking water and some basic preserved food.

  • Take note of the fire exits and stairwells whenever visiting a high-rise office or staying in a hotel.