Who would predict an underground fire, in London?
There are many events that you can predict as a risk to your business operations, loss of power, loss of internet, severe weather, supply chain disruption etc. This is the purpose of your corporate risk register, which should be kept updated on a regular basis as your operational risks shift and change. But on top of your considered risk assessment planning, you must always make allowance for unknown events that can come at you out of a clear blue sky. Sometimes literally! There was just such an event in Holborn, Central London yesterday.
According to the BBC, an electrical fire began in a tunnel under the pavement around midday on Wednesday, which resulted in thick clouds of smoke billowing onto the street. A dozen fire engines and up to 70 firefighters attended the scene of the fire to try to tackle it, but as I write 24 hours later the fire is still burning and it is proving very difficult for the fire brigade to put out. A gas pipe has apparently ruptured and is still feeding the fire.
A major London road route and Holborn Underground Station had to be closed, causing massive disruption to transport routes. 5,000 people were evacuated from surrounding properties and widespread power cuts took place affecting up to 3,000 properties. 1,000 of these are still without power today. Shops, offices, restaurants and even West End theatres had to be closed for the evening due to the fire and may have difficulty opening again today. One restaurant owner estimated his losses due to the closure at £10,000.
Events like these cause many issues for businesses. Staff find themselves trapped at police cordons, customers cannot access your restaurant or shop, the power is switched off and takes down your IT servers, and maybe your telephone system and refrigeration units. All of these things mean that you have quick decisions to make and you must be able to contact people to tell them what to do. For that you have to be able to access your business continuity plans, which might only be held on your IT servers.
My wife experienced this for herself, getting caught up in the chaos in Holborn yesterday as she tried to deliver food to the homeless in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, as she does on a regular basis. She and her colleagues were blocked by bus route and Tube closures and found themselves with food for 200 people but unable to get it to those who needed it. She and her colleagues eventually worked out an alternative plan of action but it was a significant challenge for them.
Do you suppose that any one of the hundreds of businesses affected by this incident had an underground electrical fire in the street on their risk register? I very much doubt it. But they didn’t need to have predicted this specific event to be able to have effective systems in place to handle a power cut and building evacuation. Our Crises Control mobile phone app would have given them all they need to be able to communicate with their key staff and stakeholders, access their business recovery plans, locate where their key staff were and manage the disruption as effectively as possible. In fact this is just the kind of situation that the Crises Control platform was built to handle. Check it out for yourself.