During the events of the Kingsway Fire in 2015, Farrer & Co – whose premises were based nearby – had their business continuity practices put to the test, with interesting results.

Background about crisis communications:

Over the past 15 years, a string of successive major incidents such as terror attacks, together with the development of cloud software, have spurred the development of increasingly sophisticated software systems.

These systems, alternately called “Mass Notification Systems” (MNS) or Crisis Communication Systems work to safegaurd employees, residents, citizens and whoever else sits under the client’s duty of care remit by providing them with up to date information about unfolding events as well as providing two-way communication channels to check-up on the safety of people such as employees in at-risk premises, or residents of a geographical area in flood-hit neighborhoods. Alongside this primary role, they also aim to ensure business resilience and continuity in the event of crises, so companies are not caught off guard by major incidents.

For the purposes of this brief case study, we’ll be looking at how a new crisis communications platform in the wake of the Kingsway Fire helped Farrer & Co strengthen their own resilience practices.

What happened?

The Kingsway Fire raged for over two days, beginning on April 1st, 2015. An initial electrical fault caused the area under the pavement near Holborn station to the focus of an underground inferno that firefighters struggled to tackle owing to the confined spaces that made made traditional methods of tackling such an electrical fire very difficult.

The cumulative effect upon local business was huge. Some 5,000 people were evacuated and the direct costs alone from the fire (the costs of the firefighting exercise itself) totaled £40m. Although this disproportionately impacted retailers, it also adversely affected other sectors too, including Farrer, who are based on the Kingsway.

How were Farrer affected?

Farrer’s business continuity plan, a voluminous document, was something they put into effect immediately following the incident. It contained critical information that ensured a high degree of resilience even amid the relative disorder caused by the fire. However, in spite of this high degree of competence in ensuring continuity – the fire also exposed ways in which their planning and procedure could be improved.

For example: Being able to use technology to immediately locate where staff were in the event of such incidents was something Farrer’s IT team felt would have been extremely useful. Moreover, although the physical copies of the business continuity plan created by Farrer were distributed among relevant staff, it was felt that having a digital version of this admittedly large document would add a double layer of resilience if such a crisis were to occur in the future. So while Farrer’s existing business continuity plans were comparatively very robust (being a law firm, Farrer had excellent procedures already in place), there were still important areas in which they felt they could leverage technology to improve existing workflows.

Working with Farrer to create Sentinel, a dedicated crisis communication platform

YUDU already had an existing relationship with Farrer & co prior to the Kingsway Fire, following these events however Farrer invited YUDU to consult with them on the possibility of creating a platform to further enhance aspects of their business continuity strategy. It was from this consultative process that YUDU Sentinel was born. Uniquely, Sentinel was built in response to a real crisis incident, rather than from conceptualized requirements resulting from theoretical incidents. Part of this meant that we built the platform with mobile devices foremost in our minds, owing to the now widespread proliferation of smartphones and tablets, hence the app-based approach.

Over the past two years, we’ve made consultative development of this kind an integral part of how we build up the product, working extensively with former counter-terrorism professionals as well as clients themselves to scope out what development items should be prioritized next.

As a result, Sentinel segues neatly into the sorts of requirements we often encounter in the legal sector: From a secure and independent communications channel to staff, to a class-leading document management model for easy staff access of relevant documentation. To this end it has worked for Farrer not just during crisis situations, but outside of that context too – as a quick-access company address book on their phones, as a way of accessing important documents offline on any device and so on.

Lessons learned for law firms

 Understandably in a software sector as broad ranging as that of legal technology, crisis communication systems forms just one star among a constellation of many requiring attention.

However, the events of the Kingsway Fire underscore that ensuring resilience in the event of not just major international incident, but comparatively more minor incidents like fires and server outages is something that requires attention – particular for law firms whose recurring business contracts hinge upon ensuring a reputation of complete dependability and security.

Given this, it is vital that law firms either re-examine the ways in which they both communicate with staff and manage documents that are critical to the continuance of business in the event of an incident. It is very likely that, as with Farrer & Co, your plans in this area are on solid ground, but as the example of Farrer & Co illustrates, even the best laid plans can be improved upon.