Magazine article Security Management

Putting out the Fire

Magazine article Security Management

Putting out the Fire

Article excerpt

Putting Out the Fire AT 10:37 PM ON MAY 4TH LAST YEAR A FIRE AT THE FIRST INTERSTATE Tower was reported to the Los Angeles fire department. As a result of that fire, six floors were totally destroyed, and the building could not be occupied from May 4 to September 6, 1988. That fire became the largest high-rise fire in the history of the United States. The story of how business resumption planning and security forces reacted to the fire, and how we executed our disaster contingency plan, is the focus of this article.

By 10:45 pm, the notification process started for business resumption planning. I was sound asleep when the telephone rang. I was told, "The tower is on fire." When I turned on the TV, all I could see was the tower and some smoke, and I said, "Well, this isn't going to be that significant. I will have to deal with fire on the floor and some smoke." Obviously, that wasn't the case.

By 10:55 pm, I had someone on-site who verified the fire, and by 11 pm, the emergency operations center (EOC) was set up by the bank security group. The EOC used a large conference room with monitors on the ceiling and wall-to-wall white boards. It also had terminals, personal computers (PCs), radio equipment, and anything else needed to deal with a major emergency.

The status boards were put up, and senior management started to gather at the site. The first thing we did was start logging the notification process. It's critical to have a checklist to ensure you have notified the right people.

The next part of the operation was damage assessment by floor. When I walked into the EOC, I saw on the white board a plan of the tower, and across five of the floors was a red line. The word "gone" was written beside them. Fortunately, at that particular point that picture of the damage was inaccurate. The fire was really only on two floors, but before it was over it would spread to six floors.

Something else that started immediately was enhancing the security of the EOC. People who typically do not wear badges on a day-to-day basis--such as the senior executives--were coming into the center, and the press and other individuals wanted information and would attempt to enter the center without permission. In addition to protecting the physical security of the site, we had to devise a badging system for these and other new people that they would find acceptable. We decided to use temporary colored paper badges and photobadges.

Initial planning started at 11:30 pm. By midnight, I had briefed senior management on damage assessment and the course of action. What was particularly helpful in this crisis is the contact I had had with them before. Our program had been a two-and-a-half-year process with close involvement from senior management. They understood our program, and we were familiar to them before the event occurred.

My responsibility for security for the fire dealt with business resumption planning, and bank security was responsible for emergency preparedness and life safety issues. Since the bank was a tenant in the building, we had more of a site security issue than a life safety issue, at least for our security force, because the building has its own security force.

We called in the remainder of our team, tracked the damage as the fire spread, documented the affected units, and then assigned priorities to these units. You should know ahead of time what the financial impact is if you lose that unit--how much you're going to lose every day if that business unit does not operate. We recovered the units in order of potential financial loss. We also started assigning available space. You should know where your available space is and what each critical unit needs to occupy to get back into business.

By 1:30 am, the telecommunication task force was in full operation. We had initiated the telecommunication planning for the relocated units and had Pacific Bell, AT&T, and our own staff on-site. …

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