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In 2008, Melton Borough Council’s headquarters burnt down, meaning crisis plans had to be implemented to ensure services could still be delivered and staff could do their jobs. Virtually everything went to plan, and now the council’s new headquarters building has been officially opened. PSE caught up with the council’s chief executive, Lynn Aisbett, to look back at the fire itself, and how its new offices are letting staff work in a new way.


usiness continuity must be business as usual – because sometimes the unexpected

does happen. It happened to Melton Borough Council on Friday, May 30, 2008 when its main offices caught fire at 7.30am.

Fortunately the authority, which provides services for around 50,000 people, was ready to deal with it. The council’s chief executive, then and now, Lynn Aisbett, told PSE: “For us, it was part of the business as usual culture; we had these plans worked up and were communicating them throughout the organisation and testing them to ensure that, should the worst happen – and, to my council, it did – we were ready.”

The building was gutted by the blaze: the upper floors especially were severely damaged and the interior was destroyed.

The council’s first priorities on the day of the fire and over the weekend included getting information out to staff and to residents; a meeting with the loss adjuster; salvage; securing the site; booking buses for staff; arranging transport for the servers; and planning a move to a temporary site.

Its business continuity plans meant it had an office – a disaster recovery centre – to which it could shift key staff and IT infrastructure. By the Monday morning, the call centre was back up and running, with 50 people working rather than the target of 10. Seven days after the fire, 150 staff were able to work.

36 | public sector executive Jul/Aug 12 Back to work

Aisbett said it was a small blessing that the fire was on a Friday, rather than a Monday, but she said that even so, the speed with which they managed to get key services up and running was “quite an achievement”.

She explained: “Our call centre was ready and operating from 9am and the systems that were needed were there, and we brought more and more on during the day.

“Some staff were working from different bases and perhaps not doing what they expected to be doing on that Monday morning: the taxi licensing officer may have had work she was intending to do at her desk, but she was out there talking to taxi operators instead, for example: everyone attuned their work to the circumstances we were in.

“Because we had the plans around IT and the disaster recovery centre, we were able to focus on making sure those other staff had the support they needed, and could turn up for work. Each member of staff was communicated with over that weekend on a cascade system, and I think people felt comfortable and knew what they had to do.”

The senior officers already knew, from business continuity planning, what the key business systems were and the priority that should be given to each in the first 24-hour period, the first 48 hours, the first week, and so on.

Aisbett said: “When the fire happened, we didn’t need to say ‘What are our critical systems?’ We had the list and our IT colleagues went off to the disaster recovery centre and implemented those plans. We knew who could stay at home and work from there and/or do something different, and who needed to be at the disaster recovery centre. We’d worked through all of those aspects.

“We had all our business critical systems running on the next working day.”

Communication and flexibility Aisbett said:

“The communications team

communicated with staff, partners, stakeholders, and,

importantly, councillors

– it is their business: they are the democratic masters of the council. We had an agreed brief to all our councillors on Saturday night, after the Friday fire.

“We set up a website by the Monday and were able to communicate with the regional office, as it was then. They rang us at 9am, and we were actually in a business continuity meeting. They said they’d ring back at 11am; they rang back at 10 and said ‘We’ve got all the information we need from your website; you are telling us what you are doing; we are quite happy.’

“The public could access that website and we had a confidential section of it to liaise with our staff.”

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