We have previously discussed the real and present threat that fires present to businesses, and have highlighted some of the steps that businesses should take to protect themselves, but this lesson has been reinforced by the recent fire at the South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Council offices.
Having destroyed over 80% of the office space, this fire has clearly demonstrated that major fires can and still do occur. For operations such as local government which must continue to operate and deliver services, this incident reinforces the need for businesses to fully understand their critical processes and to complete a Business Impact Analysis so that they know what resources they will require.
A clear strategy will assist in any response, giving direction for all staff. This may include, for example, home-working, relocation to alternative offices or shifts. Local Authorities, and other public sector organisations, will usually have mutual aid arrangements in place; such arrangements are not unique to the public sector and may be relevant for a wide-range of businesses, enabling fall-back options, such as warehousing, manufacturing and office space. Effective crisis or incident management and business continuity plans will assist with the speedy implementation of the strategy, and training and exercising will have enabled staff to understand the plans and their implementation.
It is noteworthy that, a week after the fire destroyed the offices, staff have still not been able to enter the building to do any salvage work; I am aware of Business Continuity exercises which have allowed a limited number of staff back into premises within 36 hours so that they could do a brief damage assessment, collect vital equipment or paperwork, and any personal effects, such as hand-bags and keys which, in this case, would be very premature.
It is evident that there has been an immediacy of response in establishing and publicising an emergency website for local residents which, given the drive for e-government, could well have been business-critical. Both councils have implemented various actions, with temporary office facilities being established in an arts centre, and some staff working from home, but there has been an impact on council services. At the time of writing this article, the Councils are still restoring full website and telephony services, and there are changes and delays to a number of council services. It will be interesting, in the fullness of time, to see whether services have been restored in line with RTOs.
In the meantime, we wish both South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils all the very best with their recovery.
Written by Helen Molyneux