Case study

Business continuity and crisis management

Learning about contingency planning after a disaster - FDS Group

When arsonists destroyed the head office of Kent-based field marketing agency FDS Group, chairwoman Alison Williams ensured her 75 employees were re-housed and the business fully operational within three working days. Here's what Alison did - and what she learned.

What I learned

People are your biggest asset

"Having a disaster-recovery plan which helped to relocate the entire business within days sent out a strong, positive signal to our customers. But we still learned a great deal - especially about the people we work with.

"Our contingency-planning routines meant that our data was backed up off site, so we knew the data was safe. We made use of our contacts in the local business community and had two temporary offices to view within 24 hours.

"We couldn't make any moves without our insurance company's approval, so our company secretary was tasked with making sure that a loss adjuster was on site by noon the day after the fire. When he arrived, we thrust a licence for potential premises under his nose and got his approval to move in there. He was surprised at this - but realised we had a business to run and co-operated on this point.

"I've never been so proud of my staff - and suppliers fell out of the woodwork to help us too. Postmen came round to help us clean up and rescue items after they had come off duty, delivery drivers kept our parcels safe and Compaq, our IT supplier, worked alongside our own IT department from Monday night to Wednesday night non-stop, bar a few snatched naps on the floor."

Engage an insurance assessor

"We found dealing with insurance companies both stressful and time-consuming as they were not always helpful or co-operative. Once we had an insurance assessor on our side who knew the ins and outs, we were much more comfortable.

"Our assessor was paid a percentage of what we received from the insurance. But he more than covered his costs in terms of reducing our stress levels and negotiating a better settlement with the insurers than we could have done."

Clients need to be reassured

"There was no time to dwell on the situation - most of our clients are blue-chip businesses that demand and deserve continued service no matter what, and our offices were totally uninhabitable.

"Getting operational as quickly as possible was the best way to reassure our clients. Having got a fully functioning office, we spent a lot of time making sure that our customers' confidence in us remained strong.

"Members of our management team held several informal meetings with customers to share ideas and resolve any residual problems. This demonstration of our commitment showed that we were very much back in business and valued our customer's needs above everything else."

What I'd do differently

Devote more resources to winning new business

"I would have ensured I allocated more staff working on winning new business in the period after the fire. Our main priority was to keep the business we had, so new business development went on the back burner for a few months. As a result, our profits growth dipped from 35 per cent a year to just 8 per cent in the year following the fire."

Check insurance levels are adequate

"Generally we were well covered, but only had one year loss-of-earnings cover. In hindsight, this wasn't enough and it took a lot of work to prove our losses in one year. We've now got three years - if we had that cover at the time, it would have taken a lot of the pressure off."