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In this final blog post looking back at the 1996 Manchester bombing, we discuss the recovery of the hundreds of small businesses caught up in the devastation.  Those affected by the attack included:

  • 100 shops in the Royal Exchange;
  • 150 shops in the Corn Exchange;
  • 40 small offices;
  • 15 pubs/cafes; and
  • 1 clairvoyant.

The impact on these businesses was profound:

  • They lost access to their premises for many weeks;
  • Stock, fixtures and fittings were destroyed; and, in some cases,
  • Staff were injured.

Small businesses are always vulnerable to unavailability of key staff and disruption to cashflows; but in this instance their problems were exacerbated by a number of additional factors:

  • The length of time taken to settle insurance claims;
  • Landlords required them to sign new 5 or 10 year lease agreements, even if they only wanted temporary premises;
  • The owners of the Corn Exchange terminated all leases; and
  • The owners of the Royal Exchange decided to completely renovate the site over the next two years.

Many businesses would undoubtedly have gone bankrupt if it hadn’t been for a tremendous community effort to assist them.  Within days, special help lines were set up by the council and chamber of commerce; and many larger firms offered temporary accommodation.  Banks offered advice and special loans.  The Lord Mayor’s Emergency Appeal Fund raised over £2m, including individual donations of £250 000 each by local businessmen David Alliance and John Zochonis.  The main contribution of the fund was to disburse vital hardship payments and loans to help businesses restock in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Gradually the recovery gathered pace.  35 businesses from the Corn Exchange were relocated to ‘The Coliseum’ when it opened in August; and another 50 small businesses were relocated to ‘The Emporium’ the next month.  By January 1997, all but 70 businesses had been relocated.  There is no definitive figure for the number of businesses that failed in the year after the bombing but, contrary to some much higher figures that circulate from time to time on the internet, the best guess is between 20 and 30.  This outcome represents a real triumph for the business community of Manchester, but the fact remains that small businesses will always be vulnerable to this sort of disruption.

The Arndale Centre was the largest covered shopping centre in Europe when it opened in 1979.  By 1996 it had 130 000 square metres of retail space with over 230 individual stores laid out on two levels.  The centre was owned and managed at the time of the bombing by P&O Properties.  Its tenants included familiar household names such as Boots, Littlewoods, W H Smith and BHS as well as numerous small independent traders.  750 000 shoppers visited every week and it had recently been ranked the 7th most successful shopping centre in the UK.  It was valued at £200m.

The Arndale Centre had itself been a previous target of PIRA attacks with firebomb incidents as recently as 1991 and 1992.  A terrorist bomb was perceived as a plausible threat and the centre had a detailed incident response plan.  Regular evacuation rehearsals were conducted and, as a general rule, the centre could be cleared in less than 25 minutes.  When the bomb warning was received on the 15th of June, an evacuation was ordered and security staff cleared the centre.

As the smoke and dust cleared, the Arndale Centre was a scene of devastation.  The Corporation Street façade (nearest the bomb) had been demolished in parts and the shopping arcades were strewn with:

  • Shattered glass from shop fronts;
  • Stock from the shops, including rotting food; and
  • Water damage from the sprinkler system.

The roof of the centre was also on fire.  The initial estimate of the cost of repair was £50m.  The management team were allowed access to the site on Monday 17th June and the following immediate priorities were agreed:

  • Assess damage;
  • Deal with immediate safety issues; and
  • Restore essential services.

Making the centre safe included a significant effort to survey and remove asbestos which had become exposed by the damage to the building.  Despite this, the Market Hall was reopened after just two weeks, followed by parts of the ground floor in early July.  By the 29th of July, just over half the shops in the centre were open again; rising to 70% by Xmas.  The remainder reopened over the next 18 months, as restoration work was combined with a major redevelopment.  For many of the Arndale tenants, business returned to normal quite quickly: by the end of July Boots was reporting revenues running at 80% of pre-bomb levels and a number of other big stores were reporting similar trading levels.

Tomorrow, in our final blog post, we will look at the plight of the hundreds of small businesses caught up in the attack.

As we recalled yesterday, the Manchester City Centre bombing was the largest explosion on the UK mainland since WWII.  Reports of possible secondary devices continued for some time after the explosion and Police initially established a cordon at the Inner Ring Road; by Saturday evening the cordoned area had been reduced to an area of approximately ½ mile by ⅓ mile around the bomb site.  It is estimated that £5m worth of trade was lost on the first day alone.  The cordon operation also trapped several hundred cars in car parks in the Arndale Centre and on Cateaton Street.  In one of the lighter moments of the whole incident, a dog was discovered, safe and well, in a trapped car after four days.

By the Monday morning, about 70% of buildings had been handed back to their owners and the remaining cordoned area was divided into 6 zones.  Looting was a potential problem so Police strictly controlled access each zone using a system of passes.  From Monday onwards, sections of the cordoned area were gradually released back to building owners until, by Thursday, only the most severely damaged areas were still under Police control.  However, returning to normal was still a long slow process.  Some of the key milestones were as follows:

  • 29th June – The first section of The Arndale Centre reopens
  • 29th July – Half the shops in The Arndale Centre open
  • 30th August – ‘The Coliseum’ opens in Church Street, providing space for 35 displaced businesses
  • 20th September – ‘The Emporium’ opens in Oldham Street, providing space for 50 displaced businesses
  • Jan 1997 – 600 businesses successfully relocated
  • March 1997 – Only 50% of insurance claims settled, many traders still not back in their premises
  • June 1998 – The Royal Exchange Arcade reopens after two years

Despite this, businesses in Manchester bounced back remarkably well.  In the final two blog posts this week we will look at the business recovery from two different perspectives.  Tomorrow we will consider how the Arndale Centre set about restoring operations; and on Friday we will look at the plight of the hundreds of small businesses caught up in the incident.

On the morning of 15th June 1996 many people in Manchester were enjoying the fine weather and England’s progress in Euro 96.  The City Centre was busy with people last-minute shopping for Father’s Day, but that was about to change…

At 11.17am a bomb containing 1500kg of home-made explosive detonated in a van parked outside Marks and Spencer on Corporation Street.  The van had been abandoned at 9.17am, the first warning received by Granada TV at 9.41 and the vehicle was identified by Police at 10.02.  Luckily there were more Police on duty than normal because of the Euro 96 match taking place that afternoon; in the next hour they managed to evacuate around 100 000 people from the City Centre.  However, after the experience of the 1992 bombing, some people were reluctant to comply with Police instructions.

This was the largest bomb on the mainland since WWII and the City Centre was devastated: buildings within a 200m radius of the bomb suffered structural damage, with broken glass out to 700m.  The most seriously damaged retail premises were:

  • The Arndale Centre, the largest shopping centre in the city, was partially demolished;
  • The second largest Marks and Spencer store in the UK had to be demolished;
  • The Royal Exchange, containing over 100 small retail units, required major repairs; and
  • The Corn Exchange, home to nearly 150 small traders, was also seriously damaged.

About 20% of the total office space available in central Manchester was also rendered unusable, including:

  • Arndale House (above the Arndale Centre) which required major repairs; and
  • Longridge House, containing the offices of The Royal and Sun Alliance, which had to be demolished.

Over 30 people had to be rescued from the wreckage of buildings after the attack, and over 200 needed hospital treatment.  Of the casualties treated in hospital, the vast majority (62%) had been injured by flying glass; although a significant proportion (20%) suffered blunt trauma injuries.  Fortunately, almost all casualties were able to go straight home from A&E with only 19 admitted to hospital.

Fortunately no gas mains were ruptured and no serious fires occurred (although the roof of the Arndale Centre was alight for a time), or the devastation would have been much greater.  Tomorrow we will start to look at how the City began to recover.

Today marks the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fires, and we join with the nation in remembering the victims and survivors of that tragedy.  However, this week also marks the 25th anniversary of the Provisional IRA bomb attack on Manchester City Centre in 1996.  Miraculously nobody was killed in that attack but:

  • Over 200 people required hospital treatment;
  • 1200 buildings were damaged;
  • Over 600 businesses were displaced; and
  • 50 000 square metres of retail space was rendered unusable (and a similar amount of office space).

The insured losses were approximately £400m; and the total cost of rebuilding the city centre was over £1b.  Over the next five days, we will look back on the incident and the City’s marvellous recovery.  We begin today by looking at the background to the attack…

Manchester had been an occasional target of terrorist activity throughout “The Troubles”; generally these attacks consisted of crude firebombs placed in commercial premises.  The most recent major incident, prior to 1996, was in 1992: whilst Police were responding to a warning of a bomb on Parsonage, another device exploded on Cateaton Street and over 100 people were injured by flying glass.

Prior to the Provisional IRA ceasefire there had been a number of large bombs on the UK mainland, but these incidents had been concentrated on London; most notably the Baltic Exchange bomb in 1992 and Bishopsgate bomb in 1993.  The focus on attacking London continued when the ceasefire was broken on 9th February 1996, with a bomb near South Quays Station which killed two people.  It is unclear why Manchester was chosen as the target in June, although the increasing use of CCTV and other security measures in the capital were undoubtedly making it a more difficult target to attack.

There has been a lot of activity on the Electrical Safety First website this year.  Even discounting the unprecedented 25 product recalls announced in January, UK recalls have been running at an average of five per month over the last four months.  This compares to a total of 36 recalls for the whole of 2020, which was itself a significant rise from 19 in 2019 (and 22 in 2018).

The pattern is repeated across Europe too.  Data from Sedgwick shows 225 consumer electronic product recalls across Europe in 2020 (up from 183 in 2019); and 62 in the first quarter of  2021.  What is going on?

Sedgwick suggest a number of possible reasons for the recent rise in recalls.  As well as the ongoing trend towards increasing complexity of smart devices, they cite three distinct issues related to Covid-19:

  •  Increasing usage of consumer electronic products during lockdowns;
  • Expedited launch of new products to respond to urgent pandemic issues; and
  • Supply chain problems caused by the global disruption.

Counterfeiting remains a major problem in the sector too.

USB chargers are the most commonly recalled product category across Europe, consistently making up 20-30% of recalls over the last few years.  However, UK recalls cover a whole range of products, including:

  • Sandwich makers;
  • Pet blankets;
  • Space heaters; and
  • LED beauty masks (whatever those are?)

Clearly, no part of the electronics industry can afford to be complacent.  Visit the product recall section of our website for advice on how to plan and train for dealing with a recall.

So it’s the final day of Business Continuity Awareness Week (BCAW) 2021: what have we learnt this year?

Undoubtedly, BCAW 2021 has been dominated by high-profile ransomware events, with a combination of:

  • Continued fallout from the DarkSide attack on Colonial Pipeline earlier in the month;
  • Ongoing disruption to the Irish Health Service following an attack with Conti ransomware; and now
  • Breaking news of another DarkSide attack on insurance firm One Call with a £15m ransom demand.

Nobody can be in any doubt now about the threat that ransomware poses to us all.  However, it is important not to become narrowly focused on a single threat.  We blogged two weeks ago about the reliability of cloud services, and specifically on Tuesday about data centre outages.  Both of these issues came to the fore again on Wednesday, when IBM experienced a five-hour disruption at its Dallas site which hosts 10 data centres.  This is only the most recent in a series of issues with IBM Cloud Services over the last few weeks.

Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic still continues to impact around the world.  Whilst it appears that we will have to wait some time for a public inquiry in the UK to start (and a lot longer for it to publish its report); the National Audit Office released its latest report on the UK Government’s response on Wednesday.  Amongst its many observations, the report highlights two points that are relevant to any crisis:

  • The UK Government had not conducted sufficient planning in advance; and
  • Communications had not always been clear and timely.

Perhaps these are the two lessons that we should all take away from BCAW 2021.

In a very rare move, the CEO of Colonial Pipeline has confirmed that the company paid a $4.4m ransom to the criminal gang who targeted the company.  Whilst survey data suggests that many companies do pay ransoms, it is almost unprecedented for a business leader to be so candid about the issue.  Acknowledging that is was a very difficult and uncomfortable decision to make; he concluded that “it was the right thing to do for the country”.

It is reported that the Irish Health Service is slowly restoring services after the significant cyber-attack last week; having made very clear their commitment not to pay any ransom.  But, just as they were starting to recover, New Zealand’s Waikato District Health Board was hit with a strain of ransomware that took down most of its IT services on Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, there is speculation that a recent spate of cyber-attacks on Axa Insurance subsidiaries in Asia is linked to the recent announcement that the company will stop buying off criminals.  Two weeks ago Axa announced that it will no longer sell policies which reimburse policy holders for ransom payments, in an attempt to slow the rapid growth in the ransomware industry.  Whilst the move applies only in France, some commentators have suggested a link with the attacks in Asia.

The most recent annual “Causes and Impacts of Data Centre Outages” report by the Uptime Institute gives a fascinating snapshot of the industry.  Key findings include:

  • The frequency of data centre outages continues to be a source of concern for both customers and operators:
  • Power issues remain the most common cause of disruption but constitute a declining share of outages; and
  • There were fewer “severe” outages in 2020 than in 2019.

The overall frequency of data centre outages appears largely unchanged, with 76% or organisations reporting some form of outage in the last three years (compared to 74% in the previous report).  As regards publicly-reported outages, there was a slight fall from 163 in 2019 to 119 in 2020.  This may, in part, reflect a reduction in the impact of outages, with only 6% of organisations reporting a “severe” incident in the last three years (compared with 11% in the previous report).

Looking in more detail at the distribution of impacts, the picture over the last few years is somewhat confusing:

I say “confusing” because the median duration, that is the length of a typical outage, has increased considerably over the last few years; but the likelihood of an extended outage has fallen.  For example there was a 16% chance of an outage of greater than 24 hours in 2018, but only an 11% chance in 2020.

Power issues are, once again, the most common cause of data centre outages at 37%; but this is well down on the historical average (since 1994) of 80%.  Within this overall category, failure of UPSs is the single biggest cause.  Software and IT systems errors are now the second largest cause of disruptions at 22%.  Whilst the recent major fire at OVH’s site in Strasbourg attracted much publicity; fires account for only a tiny number of disruptions overall.

Coming on the back of the OVH disruption, this is a further reminder to all of us of the need to manage the risk of a data centre outage; even if our systems are hosted in a top-tier facility.

As ever, it has been a busy start to Business Continuity Awareness Week (BCAW) 2021…

Over the weekend, Santander in the UK suffered major technical issues affecting branch, telephone, online, app and card services.  Sadly, according to figures compiled by the Financial Conduct Authority, this seems to be part of an ongoing problem, with Santander reporting 12 “Operational and Security Incidents” in the period July 2019 to June 2020 (the most of any bank).  The bank are to be commended though for a swift recovery, all services were restored over the weekend; and maintaining good communications with customers via their website and social media throughout the incident.  As we have blogged before, disruptions to banking services are often characterised by very poor communications.

Meanwhile, significant disruption to health services in Ireland continues, following the ransomware attack on the Health Service Executive last week.  Yesterday it was reported that criminals had stolen 700GB of unencrypted data from the HSE’s IT systems and were demanding a ransom of $20 million to provide a decrypt tool and destroy the stolen data.  The Irish Government has made it clear that they will not pay any ransom.  Following hot on the heels of the recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, and numerous attacks on UK universities in recent weeks, cyber security is certainly going to be a major theme of BCAW 2021.