BELFOR UK: Be on RED ALERT - Alasdair Phillips, United Kingdom

When a disaster befalls a business, the consequences are often far more serious than is initially apparent. If the problem isn't dealt with quickly, important information can be lost and expensive hardware damaged, ultimately forcing the cessation of business.

This is not only economically damaging, but in the long run can lead to the erosion of staff and customer confidence. Alasdair Phillips, UK managing director of global restoration and repair company BELFOR, discusses the importance of a good business continuity plan and how to go about building one.

What is a business continuity plan and why is it important to have one?

Alasdair Phillips: Under UK law, companies carry out a risk assessment as part of best practice. It covers many areas, including market conditions and events, but also emergency incidents. If there is a fire in the building, a flood or a terrorist attack, how do we continue to operate under those circumstances?

What mistakes do companies tend to make when formulating a plan?

Companies often have a plan and might even put it into practice, but they fail to account for important external resources. You sometimes need to immediately bring in third-party expertise, which is a very common area of failure.

In other cases, the plan misses out important details. Believe it or not, we had an example in our building recently. The third floor of the building which is occupied by another company, experienced a burst water pipe.

Unfortunately, in their business continuity plan they didn't mention where the stopcock was. The flood went on for ten minutes before it came through the floor. As soon as it did, we were able to bring in the resources to extract the water and begin drying - and we knew where the stopcock was. It was a good example of two companies in the same building, one with a bad continuity plan, the other with a good one.

What does BELFOR offer in this regard?

The main product we offer is called RED ALERT. When you have an emergency, we guarantee a set response time within which we will have an expert on site with the resources to deal with your situation. As part of that process we will look at your continuity plan, do a site visit and test your plan to make sure it is up to scratch. With RED ALERT, in the case of emergency, you would call the fire service, the police and then your next call is to BELFOR.

Do you have any examples of how BELFOR has assisted clients following a disaster?

We recently completed a specialist drying programme at a large construction project located on the Strand in London. The main conversion was being carried out by Galliard Homes, with the roof construction the responsibility of a third-party supplier. Unfortunately, during the work on the roof a fire broke out causing damage to Galliard's project on the floors below.

In order to tackle the fire, the fire brigade had to extract water from the nearby River Thames and pump it directly into the building. Hundreds of tons of water cascaded down the storeys and as a result, all levels within the building suffered extensively from water damage. Due to the amount of water that was used to extinguish the fire there was a requirement for drying, in addition to the fire decontamination works.

It was important that BELFOR dried the building as quickly as possible in order to minimise the delays to the ongoing construction work. To efficiently dry the interior, truck mounted, dryers were required. These high volume, low humidity units were situated on the ground floor of the building behind the site enclosure and a series of large flexible duct pipes were run up through the building, and directed to the appropriate areas to deliver the high-volume dry air.

To monitor the drying process, BELFOR installed RFID (radio frequency identification) monitors, at pre-determined points within each level. Each sensor transferred real time data to a central hub, allowing the company to closely monitor the drying progress from any location. This meant that BELFOR could almost instantly identify when each level reached its 'dry' or equilibrium state, reducing delays and unnecessary drying time. Galliard was extremely pleased with the work, and the building was returned to close to its pre-incident condition, allowing reconstruction works to continue unhindered and the schedule to get back on track.

"With RED ALERT, in the case of emergency, you would call the fire service, the police and then your next call is to BELFOR."

Another example was a fire at the Royal Mint in Wales, where the currency of the UK and a number of other nations is created. The nickel-plating plant suffered a fire and BELFOR were able to use soot-removal film (SRF) very successfully, while allowing work to continue in the plant itself. The incident involved a large workforce and stringent security protocols, but BELFOR was able to carry out the restoration works without hindering the Royal Mint's ongoing production schedules, providing them with valuable business continuity.

Statistically, is fire the biggest problem that business has to consider?

I'd say water damage was the most significant problem, whether it be a leaking radiator or a burst pipe, and it can come from sewerage or potable supply. It probably accounts for around 70% of incidents, with 20% caused by fire and 10% malicious incidents or acts of God.

What is the worldwide extent of your business? Can you share with our readers some of the global projects BELFOR has worked on?

Because we are English speaking, our technicians are in demand all over the world. It is the universal business language. Our experts from the UK have been out to Fukushima in Japan to assist with the disaster there. We had people out in Thailand when the floods occurred and often send people to the US. Internationally, BELFOR was involved in the aftermath of the Chilean earthquake, helping Iron Mountain deal with one million boxes of documents that got soaked. It's a huge, billion-dollar-turnover company.

We are constantly looking at ways to help business get up and running, we have a research and development laboratory in Germany, the sole purpose of which is to come up with new ideas. Our soot-removal treatment won the 'Innovation of the Year' award at last year's BDMA Damage Management Awards.

If you could give businesses practical advice on developing a business continuity plan, what would it be?

There are three things I would suggest. Number one would be to make sure that everyone in the business has read the plan or a summary of the plan. Most business continuity plans are written by one or a group of individuals in the health and safety department, or someone who deals with corporate planning, but it's not shared. It really needs the input of everybody.

Secondly, consider what you will do beyond your own staff. What resources will you need if the building floods? Do you need data continuity and what are the service-level agreements and protocols that you have with those third parties? Most plans are very weak on third-party involvement - they focus on getting people out of the building and keeping the phones running, not reinstatement.

The third thing is actually practising the plan; it's surprising how many people do not. We are here to advise and help people. It costs nothing to meet us and discuss the big issues. If a customer wants to take it further they can; if not, that's fine.

Alasdair Phillips, UK managing director of global restoration and repair company BELFOR.