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Lessons Learnt – The Liverpool City Council Fire

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 15 August, Liverpool Council’s Administration Building and Chambers were almost entirely destroyed when a huge fire engulfed the building. “The roof of the building collapsed but fire crews managed to save the northern section of the building” [7]. Fortunately no one was injured and no evacuations were necessary. [5]

The Liverpool Council fire illustrates the importance of having a well-structured and scalable business continuity program in place. A disaster can occur at any time, and only with appropriate plans and procedures in place will the organisation be able to minimise impact to the company, stakeholders and operations.

The damage caused by the fire was extensive with the bill estimated to be $20 million [3]. Liverpool Mayor Wendy Waller said that many historical artefacts and documents were also destroyed.

However, the damage could have been far greater. According to media reports, it seems that the council were prepared and had procedures in place in the event of an emergency. There was a significant amount of documentation held at the Council, yet the mayor stated “that while some material would be lost, that most items are backed up on a fairly sophisticated computer system and taken off site,” she said.

She said “there will have been maps and drawings and other documentation relating to a range of council activities, including applications, which will have been lost because they were not computerised. “But we will be able to complete the picture.” [1]

The Council’s recovery action plan was also implemented immediately, sending 650 staff to work out of city libraries, depots and arts centres – or on to paid leave – until they find a new facility from which to operate. [6]

From these off site locations the council is working to ensure that operations and service levels are maintained.

What can we learn from Liverpool’s experience?

  • The importance of having emergency and business continuity plans in place to ensure critical services can continue.
  • The value of having a communications strategy to ensure accurate and meaningful information is communicated to all key stakeholders and the media.
  • The preparation required to ensure IT systems, data and infrastructure can be restored within required timeframes.
  • The need to identify and protect critical documentation as much as practicable. Are documents stored in cabinets rather than on open shelves? Should some documentation be stored off-site? Should some documentation be scanned and electronic copies stored?

By having appropriate contingency plans in place, it appears Liverpool Council was able to minimise the impacts to their services after the emergency occurred. This situation clearly demonstrates the importance for companies to build a resilience organisation that has adequate risk management, crisis and continuity strategies in place.

Written by Jodie Wentworth

Senior Consultant, Business Continuity, RiskLogic Pty Ltd

References

1. Liverpool Leader http://liverpool-leader.whereilive.com.au/news/story/no-shortage-of-leads-on-council-fire/

2. ABC News http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/08/15/2983167.htm

3. Liverpool Council Fire: USU General Secretary Visits (2010) United services Union http://www.usu.org.au/usu/artman/publish/article_1241.shtml, at 26 August 2010

4. Liverpool City Council http://www.liverpool.nsw.gov.au/docs/Media%20statement%20Liverpool%20Council%20update%2017%20AUGUST%202010.doc.

5. Fire Destroys Liverpool Council Chambers (2010) Big Pond News http://bigpondnews.com/articles/National-Regional/2010/08/15/Fire_destroys_Liverpool_council_chambers_499332.html, at 26 August 2010

6. Daily Telegraph http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/m-council-inferno-whats-next-at-liverpool-city-council/story-e6freuy9-1225905565926

7. Sydney Morning Herald (2010) http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/arson-suspected-as-fire-guts-council-20100815-12575.html, at 27 August

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