This article appeared in Disaster Recovery Journal, Volume 12, Issue 2, Spring 1999
This game of hit and miss took place in Columbia, Missouri around 2:15 a.m. on November 10, 1998. As I lay sleeping, I was awakened by the weather alarms nearby. My family and I heard very strong winds and then the power went out all over the area. Living in a mobile home, I quickly got my family up and out to the car. Our plan was to go to the elementary school next door or the University of Missouri Police Department or to our church, to which my wife has the keys.
We were intercepted by our neighbors who said they had just heard on their scanner, that the storm had passed our area and was heading northwest, out of Boone County. The wind had slowed down and the alarms had stopped. After going back indoors for about five or six minutes, we began to feel the wind picking up very quickly as it went over the top of the mobile home park. Then we heard a sound such as a train, and a lot of rumbling noise.
A short time later one of my co-workers, a member of our Disaster Recovery Team (DRT) called to inform me of damage to our Records Management facility at the University of Missouri. As he continued to make the calls from the DRT phone tree, I headed over to our facility. There were police and other emergency personnel waiting to stop me from entering the location. Around 4:30 AM, after talking to two or three different officials and identifying myself as the DRT Coordinator, I was allowed to enter the building.
I could not believe the amount of damage I was seeing, just one quarter of a mile from my mobile home park. There were roofs off buildings, trees twisted off at the middle, loading dock doors completely gone. At daylight I was able to see much more damage. Steel beams were bent in the walls and roof; inside walls were down and fire walls displaced. The Microfilm Operations department was ripped apart. Large sections of our roof in the Records Center were missing. Windows were blown out of the building as well as out of the delivery vehicles. There were many birds blown onto the drive from the trees and one was found inside one of the delivery vans.
A large part of my responsibility was to photograph all of the damage, both inside and out, from different viewpoints. We continued to document the recovery activities as the cleanup took place.
Fortunately, as part of our Disaster Plan, we had stocked recovery supplies such as: large and medium tarps, flashlights and batteries, battery power radio, mops and other smaller items to aid us in the pack-out of wet documents.
Upper management performed like the professionals that they are. They made all of the arrangements for activation of insurance and freeze drying of documents as well as calls to contractors.
The pattern or course taken by the tornado was as if it were playing a game of tic-tac-toe. Several homes were badly damaged to the point that they unoccupied. But, the many mobile home parks and other buildings, even along our block, were untouched. I had raked up the leaves in my yard the evening before and they were completely undisturbed.
Our company was very blessed as none of our records were blown from the building or otherwise lost. Because of the hour the storm hit, we had no injuries to any of our staff. By early morning we had contractors already on site to evaluate the damage and make emergency repairs. Because of the support we received from top management, we were able to start the cleanup very quickly. The clearing of debris, such as downed walls, ceiling tiles, insulation and electrical conduits by contracted staff, allowed the DRT to focus on the recovery and protection of records and computer systems.
By day two, the DRT had pulled and repacked 226 boxes for freeze and air drying later. We also spent a considerable amount of time carrying valuable equipment to safety and covering it for the microfilm lab. Our microfilm operations department and another department from our facility were temporarily relocated down the block to another University building. Both were operational within eight days. By day three, the Records Center provided limited services to customers. There are two other departments also housed in our facility which were hit as hard or worse.
Disaster can and will happen at some point, whether on the job or in our homes. The best defense when they occur is to have a plan that is tested and other resources to meet the needs of our organization and the safety of its staff.
Your plan must be tailored to your organization and every person and department located within that facility.
The greatest lesson we'll ever learn when it comes to continuity planning:
Any plan is better than not having a plan.
Willie M. Jones is a part of the Records Analyst Records Management at the University of Missouri System. He can be contacted by email at Jonesw@umsystem.edu