Safe and Sound

Safe and Sound

They found an exit off the mezzanine. Lepczyk peeked out of the door, where a fallen body lay on the pavement. "I looked up and nothing was falling at the moment. I'm a pilot, and I knew that meant we'd have 20 seconds before anything new that started down would hit the ground, so I had everyone run," he says.

He directed them to flee to the Post Office across the street—because it had a wall that would offer them some cover from flying debris. He then ordered them to line up, single file, against the wall and edge their way around it, then make their way uptown as fast as possible. By the time the WTC buildings collapsed, less than an hour later, all of NYSA's employees had been evacuated, out of harm's way.

That's when Phase Two of the plan kicked in, and Lepczyk's and Strcich's thoughts turned to restoring the company's data and operations. Once out of the building, Lepczyk realized that he'd forgotten to grab a clipboard and eight critical data CDs from his desk. But they only contained records of the company's work in the hours that Tuesday morning before the attack. As part of NYSA's disaster plan, everything that had been done prior to Sept. 11 had been recorded on backup computer tapes and—in accordance with a daily routine—shipped every night to an emergency records storage facility in Rosedale, N.Y., run by Boston-based Iron Mountain Inc.

Then, unable to find a cab or use their cell phones—and hampered by attack-related long-distance phone outages—Lepczyk and Strcich walked some 40 blocks north to a friend's midtown apartment, where they called Strcich's nephew in his midtown office. His company's Centrex phone system was able to patch Strcich through to New Jersey, to notify NYSA emergency operators there to set aside some desks, chairs, phones and computers for the NYSA staff in two prearranged emergency office locations in Jersey City and Philadelphia, both hosted by SunGard Recovery Services L.P. Then Strcich, still patched into the Centrex line, alerted Iron Mountain to ship the backup tapes down to the Philadelphia facility.

It was only then that both men notified their families that they were safe, on cordless phones being offered by helpful New Yorkers lined up on the streets, hoping to help dust-covered tower escapees as they made their way north from the blast site. Lepczyk and Strcich were finally able to flag down a limo driver to take them further north, to the Tappan Zee Bridge, where their families were waiting to meet them.

Once home, they learned that New York Harbor would be closed to commercial shipping the next day. So they began contacting employees at home by phone, telling them whether they'd be needed Wednesday or Thursday—and to which facility they should report. In some cases, special cars were dispatched to pick up people and take them, amid traffic tie-ups and bridge closings, to the sites. In other cases, due to widespread telephone and cellphone service outages, evacuated executives, once home, drove to some individual employees' homes to convey scheduling information in person and check up on workers' welfare.

Wednesday was spent readying the emergency offices for basic capabilities—a step also spelled out in the company's IT disaster recovery plan. "Joe and I worked through the night Wednesday, making sure we had all the emergency sets of PCs up and running. There were only 40 onsite, so we had to arrange for 40 more to be drop-shipped into the site at 2 a.m.," Lepczyk recalls. The two, working with SunGard personnel, tested the machines, loaded them with data and hooked them up to the site's LAN lines, ensuring that the Jersey City location would be able to communicate flawlessly with Philadelphia. "By Thursday morning, we were functioning," Lepczyk says.

This article was originally published on 10-01-2001
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