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Alfred Goxhaj, CIO, Philadelphia Insurance Companies
Alfred Goxhaj, CIO, Philadelphia Insurance Companies
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Weathering the Storm: Hurricane Sandy Validates Philadelphia Insurance Companies' Business Continuity Plan

After a strong performance during Hurricane Irene in 2011, PHLY made further improvements to ensure that Hurricane Sandy caused no interruption of normal business, relates CIO Alfred Goxhaj.

Alfred Goxhaj
Alfred Goxhaj, Philadelphia Companies
Sandy tested the entire Northeast across many dimensions, including the stability and durability of our infrastructure, the resilience and the resolve of our people, and the preparedness of public and private sector organizations to handle a catastrophic event of this magnitude. In the aftermath of the storm, the ability to continue business operations separated the success or failure of many entities. One can’t help but look at the drama unfolding in the media and understand that business continuity planning for business and IT operation is at the centre of it. The failures are obviously related to lack of preparedness.

Multi-Prong Approach

The business continuity plan (BCP) has always been an essential part of Philadelphia Insurance Companies’ (PHLY, a Tokio Marine Group company) enterprise risk management. Three years ago, our IT department was charged with the task of creating, maintaining and advancing a formal BCP. IT immediately institutionalized the program by acquiring and assigning highly experienced professionals with a long track record in the industry as planners and implementers. The program followed a multi-prong approach. The first initiative was to identify and document all tier 1 business processes crucial to the viability of operations. All business departments were engaged in defining the most critical processes that could not be interrupted in the case of a disaster The second path took us towards the identification and the evaluation of the technologies that would reside outside our network and drive the BC efforts in case of a disaster. That effort resulted in the naming of a BCP plan organizer and the creation of an emergency notification system capable of handling multiple communication channels for a relatively large number of employees that was also flexible enough to address national or regional notifications.

The third effort was to prepare actual plans to handle any disaster of any magnitude, including training the first response teams and the overall employee community in a precise, step-by-step process. The plans included declaring the disaster; distributing written procedures on how to handle the event and what to do at the individual level; the data retrieval process from the hosted site; and the initiation and implementation of the plan. The individual BCP Team plans, over 30 of them were built with collaboration from all BCP team members. Conducting regular desktop exercises assured a refreshing of the understanding of the BCP team plan. All BCP team leaders were trained on how to access, attest, and update their BCP Team plan in the hosted software. All of above created a heightened awareness of the plans and their details.

The effort to put a robust BCP in place led us to the selection of alternate working space complete with all the amenities to conduct business unhindered. We provided for brick-and-mortar facilities as mobile units equipped with satellite Internet connection.

Work-from-Home Capabilities

Finally, Philadelphia Insurance had initiated a technology renovation program since 2010 to allow every employee of the company to work from home and be just as productive as they would be in the office. Over the course of three years we upgraded the technology starting from the desktops, to VPN, Citrix, mobile devices and supporting systems culminating on a 99% ability to work from home and provide uninterrupted business services to our agents and insured alike.

Lessons of Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene tested our preparedness including the thoroughness and the completeness of the plan. Despite the successful handling of the situations that Irene created, the post mortem of the event resulted in more improvements and a simple but very important document that played a role in the handling of Sandy – the hurricane preparedness check list.

Preparing for Sandy

Before the storm hit the continental shelf our executive teams, business units and IT conducted their preparation meeting to ensure everything was ready and everyone knew their tasks in case of a disaster.

The BCP managers sent reminders of the actual copies of the plan to each department. Each office location that was in the path of the storm and each department received the hurricane preparedness check list as the first set of defensive activities before the storm hit.

The alternative working locations were notified of the company’s intention to declare disaster in case of catastrophic even and the locations were reserved in advance following their rules of first come first serve policy.

The morning of the October 30 greeted the Philadelphia Insurance Companies employees throughout Northeast locations not only with wind and rain but with a string of notifications delivered through the emergency notification system. The executive team provided information about the status of the key locations and the plans to open and close the locations while emphasizing the employees and their family’s safety as the first priority.

IT Command Center

The IT set up a command center and the BCP management team became the central point of communications and activities between management, IT, facilities, corporate communications, Regional Offices, and employees. The team’s documented the activities and managed the conference calls. Sandy was not only the culmination of their 2 years efforts but an unprecedented opportunity to learn more about crisis situation handling and the preparedness.

For 48 hours straight, the IT would conference periodically, providing a status of all systems, critical or not, making adjustments or decisions along the way and ensuring 24x7 uninterrupted service.

Yes, We’re Open!

Sandy hit us hard, but Philadelphia Insurance Companies were open for business during the same working hours as always. The overall impact of the storm was insignificant and thanks to a 2 year tireless effort on the part of the BCP team, IT department and unconditional support from the executive management. The benefits of the employees being safe and the business being able to continue its service to the customers without any impediment far surpassed the investments made and planned to be made in the BCP program.

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