Risk Management

What Works When Disaster Strikes

These five technologies proved their mettle in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Tim ReasonNovember 1, 2001

The grave new world facing companies after September 11 may make a huge difference in future technology deployments, says Donald B. Christian, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP’s risk management practice. For example, Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost approximately 700 employees in the World Trade Center, also lost all the forms designating those employees’ life insurance beneficiaries. A document-imaging system might have helped, and as companies reformulate their strategies, they may well have to take a harder look at the role that certain technologies can play in business recovery. Some technologies that proved particularly useful on and after September 11 include:

Wireless Communications. Unisys, which had 11 employees working as consultants at the Pentagon and more than 200 in the World Trade Center, paged all missing employees, says CFO Janet Brutschea Haugen. The message? Call us; let us know you’re OK. Fortunately, they all were.

Centralized Travel Systems. MasterCard, BJ’s, Unisys, and other companies with in-house reservation systems, whether internal or outsourced, quickly located their employees. For BJ’s, the warehouse shopping club, the all-clear came with a sobering coda: The chairman of the board had canceled his ticket on American Airlines Flight 11 three days earlier.

E-Mail. Unable to call out of New York City, PG&E Corp.’s CEO E- mailed his California colleagues that he was all right — from his laptop. PricewaterhouseCoopers asked its employees nationwide whether they could house stranded colleagues; the company received 200 positive responses within the first 35 minutes, and 2,000 by the end of the day. Another combined E-mail/database effort then helped match up the castaways so they could carpool to home and work.

The Web. Already a proven communication tool for customers and employees, the Web became a key way for individual companies to communicate with the families of the missing, broadcast contact numbers, and list safe and missing employees.

Telecommuting. Okay, so it’s not technically a technology. Still, the argument for letting employees work from home got a huge boost when those with home computers and company E-mail access turned their homes into de facto backup sites.