Special Report on Company Relocation: How the IRA put firm's boast to the ultimate test: Martin Whitfield looks at the way Commercial Union stopped its drama becoming a crisis

THE City of London bomb blast earlier this year presented Commercial Union with more than just the devastation of its 23-storey headquarters.

As a major insurer, it was clear to management that the way in which the company responded would be an important test of its skills in handling disasters.

'We felt we needed to prove our slogan,' said Ray Morley, marketing services manager and a key figure in restoring the company's activities after the IRA bombing on Friday 10 April.

CU's advertising catchphrase 'We won't make a drama out of a crisis' is probably the best known in insurance, but can be difficult to live up to when 650 staff have had their place of work destroyed in a single violent act.

Mr Morley said that almost before two of the company's security guards, who were slightly injured, were released from hospital two hours after the explosion, it was evident that the building would be out of action for some time.

All telephone and computer links had gone. Most of the building's windows had been blown out, the blinds blowing around in the gaping holes becoming the symbol of the bombing.

A later detailed examination of St Helen's, as the headquarters building was known, estimated the reconstruction time at more than 12 months.

Each of the five major operating departments based at St Helen's had their own disaster plans but none had envisaged that the entire building would be unusable.

But the basics for emergency relocation were in place. CU knew every staff telephone number, it knew how many computers were being used, the square feet occupied by each department and which units of staff needed to be kept together.

It also knew what space was available in other offices in London and the South-east. Information was gleaned from duplicate copies of all emergency documents kept at Croydon, south London, as it was not possible to enter St Helen's.

Several relocation options were considered on that Saturday morning as telephone engineers discovered that the switchboard could be reconstitued at the Croydon computer centre, restoring 3,600 extensions in all CU's London offices. One initial thought was to transfer all 650 staff to one empty building developed by CU's property arm in Kingston, Surrey.

But it was crucial for trading and investment departments to be in the City of London - indeed, market licence requirements meant some staff had to be ready for trading on Monday morning.

The investment department and Quilter Goodison, CU's stockbroking company, found space quickly in the Broadgate development near Liverpool Street.

Other essential London staff were located in company offices at nearby Plantation House, while the remainder were spread to Croydon and Basildon, Essex. Desks, telephones and computer terminals were delivered over the weekend with CU praising its suppliers for their rapid emergency response.

By 9am on Monday most staff were at their new place of work. On the following day, all 650 were relocated except 19 who were either on sick leave or on holiday.

The disaster generated a huge amount of goodwill among staff - and among customers - but managers believed that commuting journeys of up to two hours each way every day would not be tolerated for long. 'One young woman working in Croydon was spending four hours getting to work from north Essex. We had to start looking for premises in London,' Mr Morely said.

The huge surplus of office space in the City was of obvious assistance in the search and two weeks after the bomb, CU announced that it had agreed a short-term lease on new offices at Cutler's Exchange, about 200 yards from St Helen's. All staff, with the exception of those relocated in Broadgate, are now working at Cutler's Exchange although the CU basement canteen is already back in action at St Helen's.

The possibility of longer term and longer distance relocations were considered, but rejected on the basis that the company had already moved out most staff who did not need to be located in the City.

Several other organisations, large and small, have contacted CU for advice and guidance on its disaster planning. 'It was very important for us to be able to say on Monday morning that it was 'business as usual',' Mr Morley said.

(Photographs omitted)

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Audit Manager Central Functions

To £85,000 + banking benefits: Saxton Leigh: You will be expected to carry out...

Credit Risk Audit Manager

Up to £90,000 + benefits: Saxton Leigh: Credit Risk Audit Manager required to ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week