January 07, 2005

LaSalle National Bank officials don't consider themselves lucky. They credit thorough emergency planning and effective disaster recovery systems for preventing loss of life and preserving business data in the five-alarm blaze at the company's 45-story headquarters in Chicago on Dec. 6, 2004.

"We plan for the possibility of such a catastrophe, and that planning paid off," says Louis F. Rosenthal, the bank's executive vice president, who is responsible for the bank's technology, infrastructure and operations. "We have disaster recovery and business continuity plans for all of our business units, and those plans worked superbly," he says.

The blaze injured 37 people, including 22 firefighters. None of the injuries was life-threatening. As BS&T went to press, the cause of the fire was still being investigated. Damages, which are still being assessed, will include the loss a multimillion-dollar collection of rare photography owned by the bank - but critical data remained safe.

The fire occurred on the 29th and 30th floors, which housed the bank's trust department, a research unit and a credit training group. About 500 people were in the building when the fire broke out. A number of personal computers were destroyed, but files were saved by an automatic backup system.

"We ask people to leave their computers on so we can remotely scan them for viruses and push down patches and upgrades. We are also able save work on their machines by mirroring files in remote locations," Rosenthal relates.

In the hours after the fire was extinguished, the bank's major challenge was to relocate the building's 3,000 employees. "Each of our business, administrative and staff support units have business continuity plans," Rosenthal says. "We know where people will go if they have to leave a certain facility. It was just a matter of executing the plan," he adds. Many of the bank's personnel were relocated to other facilities around the city, while others shifted their work to home offices.

According to Rosenthal, a fire that killed six people in a Cook County office building in Chicago in October 2003 prompted bank officials to intensify preparedness training. "That fire reinforced how important it is for occupants to listen carefully to emergency instructions," he says, noting that the bank has regular fire drills, including one in the headquarters building just six weeks before the Dec. 6 blaze.

The second-largest bank in Chicago after Bank One, LaSalle has $62.8 billion in assets and $36.4 billion in deposits. The bank is owned by Netherlands-based ABN AMRO.