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When Good is not Good Enough: One Year after ‘Sandy’

October 31, 2013

A year ago, a deadly storm with a deceivingly sweet name wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and along the coast of the United States, touching every state along the eastern seaboard. The most destructive and deadliest storm of the 2012 hurricane season, Sandy caused tens of billions of dollars in damage. Communities were wiped out. Hundreds lost their lives. Rebuilding continues to this day.

Superstorm Sandy, as it became known in the U.S., made landfall in mid-New Jersey, just south of New York City. Thousands of Bloomberg employees were affected, especially in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Power, water, and other vital infrastructure were disrupted for weeks.

In typical fashion, Bloomberg employees persevered.

“A lot of people performed beyond the call of duty the week of the storm, and for weeks afterward,” remembers David Heuwetter, Global Manager for Security and Risk. “The response from our colleagues was incredible.”


JERSEY CITY MOBILE OFFICE: Bloomberg employee Amey Rane (back to camera) works with fellow employees Santosh Naidu, to his left; Akash Shah, across the table (facing camera); and Diya Gangopadhyay, to his right, through remote connections to their Bloomberg terminals. The group worked for three days in Akash’s Jersey City apartment in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Photographed by Hrishikesh Bakshi of Bloomberg.

Throughout the ordeal, Bloomberg employees around the world ensured that business continued with as little interruption as possible, providing news and customer service in a seamless handover process that spanned the globe. Colleagues in every region played a role in keeping Bloomberg running. Teams from News, R&D, Security, Facilities, Operations, Analytics, Customer Service, Communications, Infosys, Human Resources and other departments pulled together in a brilliant show of unity — and resilience.

“I’m really proud of the flexibility we gave people,” says Alison Trellis of Human Resources. “It’s our job to find every opportunity we can to support our employees and vendors.” As an example, with commuter trains and other transportation disrupted for weeks, an existing function was creatively repurposed so employees could find carpools. Buses were also arranged for employees in areas without public transportation.


WATER WHEELS: Residents are evacuated from their apartments with the help of a national guardsmen in Hoboken, New Jersey, Wednesday, October 31, 2012. The National Guard was called in to assist in the evacuation of residents. Photographed by Emile Wamsteker for Bloomberg.

“We need to be constantly looking ahead,” Trellis asserts. “What can we do to prepare for the next disaster?”

To this end, Chief Operating Officer Beth Mazzeo has made resiliency a top priority. “Resiliency is our strategic focus on adapting to changing conditions and avoiding business disruptions by integrating plans across businesses and creating a culture of disciplined awareness,” she says. Mazzeo’s office has a four-pronged strategy that focuses on anticipation, preparation, response, and recovery.


FLOATING CARS: Gasoline surrounds vehicles submerged in water in the Financial District of New York City on Tuesday, October 30, 2012. New York City officials began assessing damage after Superstorm Sandy killed 10 people, sparked a fire that razed 80 homes in Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left 750,000 customers without power, including the lower third of Manhattan. Photographed by Victor J. Blue for Bloomberg.

When it comes to strengthening incident management plans, Bloomberg has deep roots. Superstorm Sandy, after all, isn’t the first disaster to strike where our colleagues live and work. When Mumbai was rocked by terrorist attacks in 2008, a local contingency plan to protect employees went into effect. The lessons learned from those events affected Bloomberg’s response to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Again, the company learned what worked and what didn’t, and those lessons were applied to contingency plans in New York and New Jersey in time for Sandy’s landfall.

“We don’t just look at what happened,” Heuwetter says. “We also consider what could have happened. What could have gone wrong?” He continues: “The biggest lesson we have learned from all of these events is the need to maintain a sense of urgency in our preparedness.”

No two situations are alike. What applies to one emergency may not be an exact fit for another event. “We learn. We improve,” affirms Trellis.

One area in constant need of fine tuning is communication. In an emergency, it is essential to keep communication lines open. When cell phone towers, land lines, or the Internet go down, contacting employees becomes a test of agility. Communication continuity is top of mind in the COO’s office. “We are creating systematic ways to keep employees informed when disaster strikes,” confirms Michael Mackay, chief of staff for the COO. “Our communications must be informed, easy to understand, and adaptable to changing circumstances.”

Since Superstorm Sandy, colleagues have coped with bombings in Boston, terrorist attacks in Kenya, and the autumn storm that battered northern Europe. Clearly Bloomberg must be prepared to anticipate, react, and respond at any moment.

Huewetter is resolute: “We must constantly improve, because good is never good enough.”


THE MORNING AFTER: A statue of the Virgin Mary stands over houses destroyed by fire in the Breezy Point neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City on Wednesday, October 31, 2012. Photographed by Scott Eells for Bloomberg.

Contributed by Shaun Randol, editor of On Bloomberg, Bloomberg LP’s internal newswire.