Business as usual, thanks to the instant office

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The Independent Online

Shortly before 7pm last Friday, Beverly Norbal left the Waterfront pub on South Quay and stepped into a blinding yellow flash and a world that rained glass.

It took a fraction of a second for Ms Norbal, 25, to realise that she had been less than 200 yards from a huge explosion, but by then she was being helped by PC Roger de Graaf, a man who has come to be known as one of the heroes of the Docklands bombing.

The office in which she worked, on the fifth floor of the South Quay II building, was devastated in the blast, yet, astonishingly, yesterday at 9am Ms Norbal and her colleagues were back at work.

They were among the hundreds of employees from more than 20 businesses on the Isle of Dogs who are benefiting from London's painfully extensive experience of bombs. Her company, BIMCOM, a part of the Cable & Wireless Group that provides communications for shipping, was among the growing number that had contingency plans to get back to work regardless of the IRA's handiwork.

"The clients can't believe it," she said at the company's emergency office in Wapping, east London. "I'm getting calls from the Middle East, Scandinavia, the Far East and all over Europe from customers who saw what happened - and saw some of us interviewed - on television.

"When I tell them we're up and running and won't be stopped for anything, they think it's a miracle."

Such miracles are performed by disaster recovery companies which have grown up in the wake of London's other big bombs at the Baltic Exchange and Bishopsgate.

The companies provide bespoke technology, office space and back-up services for firms that do not want to crash simply because an explosion has demolished their headquarters.

Mick Williams, CAP-RS's marketing director, took two calls after the bombing from BIMCOM and an unnamed finance house, each of which pay CAP- RS to keep facilities on standby.

"We have 19 sets of offices and 4 recovery suites in Wapping ranging in size from 60 to 160 desks," he said.

"Each one can be set up immediately with compatible computers, fax and phone facilities and all the back-up they need. BIMCOM's technicians were in here with our own over the weekend but it took only hours to give them here exactly what they had in the Isle of Dogs before it was blown up."

CAP-RS, a subsidiary of the Anglo-French SEMA Group, has emergency offices in the Docklands, but they were not used for the latest disaster because of the disruption there. Their 250 clients also have access to facilities in Singapore, Frankfurt, Poole and Bristol at annual fees ranging from pounds 3,000 for a few desks to more than pounds 1m for full banking and computing facilities run as a mirror image of offices in the City.

Most businesses on the Isle of Dogs returned to normal but employees housed in the five worst affected buildings - the South Quay I, II, and III, the South Quay Plaza and the Great Eastern Enterprise House - were not allowed into them because of fears for their stability.

Other firms affected by the blast - which include the Midland Bank, Abbey National and Franklin Mint - were being helped yesterday by the London Docklands Development Corporation to find new premises from which to work.

Security was heightened as thousands of people making their way to work were stopped and checked by armed police. The Docklands Light Railway was still running a restricted service but its managing director, Malcolm Hutchinson, said that the bomb appeared not to have caused major damage and he hoped to resume a full service by the end of the week.