The speed with which the business world returned to business in the wake of the terrorist bombs that exploded on London's transport system Thursday, July 7, killing 56 people, might seem indecent to some.
The London Stock Exchange's blue-chip index, the FTSE 100, fell by more than 200 points on Thursday morning when news of the bombings broke. It recouped much of the loss in the afternoon and by Friday's close advanced to a new three-year high.
The Bank of England's monetary policy committee, due that day to announce its monthly decision on the key U.K. interest rate at noon, kept to its schedule. Even London's notoriously unreliable Underground metro service, prone to delays and breakdowns at the best of times, resumed normal service on many lines in less than 24 hours.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the business community had prepared for such an eventuality for a long time and had implemented contingency plans to ensure the greatest possible degree of business continuity.
At least 100 companies were reported to have put their disaster recovery plans on standby as news of the attacks broke. Many London-based firms arranged for buses to transport staff who faced a difficult journey home or block-booked hotel rooms to accommodate them overnight.
"We know from our own research that nearly two-thirds of companies overhauled their security arrangements in 2004, with 80 percent discussing security in detail at board level," commented CBI Director-General, Sir Digby Jones. "This work proved its worth on July 7."
One of the bombings occurred at Aldgate station, in close proximity to Lloyd's of London and the offices of many brokers and insurers.
Royal & SunAlliance reported that, as a major advocate of preparing for "the worst-case scenario," it followed its own advice, which allowed for a smoothly coordinated response once news of the explosions first broke.
"We have a dedicated London business recovery team, whose whereabouts are known at all times," said a spokesman.
The team, comprising risk consultants, business-continuity experts, human resources, senior managers and both internal and external communications, has responsibility for executing, regularly testing and updating emergency procedure plans.
The Underground bombs were detonated at 8.50 a.m., the bus explosion occurring less than an hour later. Royal Sun accounted for all but seven of its London-based staff by 10.30 a.m. and located everyone by 11.30 a.m. Staff were informed of the developing situation at half-hour intervals.
The attack did not come as a surprise. For months, the British media had carried reports on how the government and other authorities were prepared for the worst.
There was general praise for the response of the emergency services, which had prepared themselves with a simulated terrorist attack at Bank Underground station, at the center of the financial district, back in September 2003.
With signs that the most recent attacks mark the start of a prolonged campaign, London businesses will now be updating their long-established business-continuity plans.
They are likely to further encourage the trend toward fewer business meetings and more video conferencing. Many companies will review whether, at least for part of their working week, staff can be based at home and reduce their commuting.
A second attempted terrorist attack two weeks after the July 7 incident prompted a joint declaration by business body the London Chamber of Commerce (with 3,500 members) and the Asian Business Association (representing 1,500 firms). It called for four basic security measures to be introduced. They were:
- Relocate all security checks in high-profile buildings from reception areas to locations physically outside the buildings.
- Technology similar to that used in U.K. airports to scan passengers on a random basis to be introduced in the London Underground to detect anyone carrying explosives.
- The pager system already used by the Corporation of London and local police to communicate and update on a terrorist atrocity to be utilized by more businesses.
- More extensive use by the police of stop-and-search powers on individuals carrying large bags or rucksacks.
Andy Tomkinson of the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) said integration of the capital's essential services has developed well under the government's emergency committee. Known as Cobra, the acronym stands for the more mundane-sounding "Cabinet Office Briefing Room A" and includes senior personnel from MI5 and the police.
But he also said he would like the business sector to be more involved in the process--and this will include future emergency-response exercises both in London and other major British cities.
September 1, 2005
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