Dennis O'Donovan, Sidley AustinBy Anna Maria Virzi Print
Dennis O'Donovan, director of New York information services at law firm Sidley Austin, was working in the firm's World Trade Center north tower office on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first hijacked plane smashed into his building.
Dennis O'Donovan, director of New York information services at law firm Sidley Austin, was working in the firm's World Trade Center north tower office on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first hijacked plane smashed into his building. The Chicago-based firm, which employed about 600 on floors 54 and 56 through 59, lost one employee, switchboard operator Rosemary Smith.
O'Donovan, who supervises a staff of 25, recalls how he helped to account for the whereabouts of employees based in the World Trade Center and worked to restore computer services for the law firm within six days in an uptown building at 875 Third Avenue where Sidley Austin had an office with 250 employees. And he describes what he's learned since about keeping business continuity plans up to date.
Q: Where were you on 9/11?
A: I was at my desk, tower 1, 59th floor. My window faced south and overlooked--in part--tower 2. I felt a shudder in the building, heard a loud noise, looked out my window and saw the exit fireball on the south side of the tower, bridging the space between us and the second tower.
Q: How did you escape?
A: Through the fire stairs.
Q: How long did it take?
A: About 25 minutes. It was slow and steady, and I was very impressed how briskly and efficiently it was handled. I did not realize how much actually had happened and how widespread the damage was. My first thought getting outside was to try and rally together all the staff. But when I saw how dispersed people were, that was not going to work. The next move was to get uptown to the other [Sidley Austin] office.
Q: What did you do when you got to that office?
A: After being hugged by people who were happy to see me, I immediately started making phone calls to vendors, manpower sources, etc., to begin a recovery. By the time I got up there, both towers had fallen. So I knew that the space was gone.
Q: Did your organization's business continuity plan meet expectations?
A: In my personal opinion, it met and even perhaps exceeded expectations given the magnitude of what happened. The continuity plan was more general than specific, but the focus was on interoffice support--where other Sidley Austin offices would be leveraged within the firm and would support any office that was down. We had a precedent for that in our planning for Y2K [the year 2000 software code problem]. That [business continuity] plan was implemented in ways that we never dreamed were likely to happen.
Q: How did that plan work on 9/11?
A: Chicago [Sidley Austin's headquarters], for instance, hosted a significant amount of our systems temporarily until those systems could be implemented in the firm's [Manhattan] office. There were clearly elements of the continuity plan outside of technology that were in very good shape. We were very lucky that the building [875 Third Avenue] at the time had a significant amount of vacant floors. We were able to negotiate getting those offices [for temporary office space].
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