- Amid smoke, flags, police, metal detectors and new security checkpoints, business slowly began to get back to usual in the US this week, as financial markets reopened for the first time in four days and a number of companies that had offices in New York's World Trade Center started to conduct operations again.
Both of the World Trade Center's main towers were destroyed, along with some other buildings in or near the complex, while nearby facilities were also damaged, in terrorist attacks on September 11 (US time).
Two financial firms, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co and Merrill Lynch & Co, both went back to work this week. Merill Lynch was "operating as close to business as usual as possible," in the words of spokeswoman Selena Morris. Morgan Stanley had much the same news. "All systems are intact and operational, assets are safe, and....the firm is open for business as markets in the US resume operation," a posting on Morgan Stanley's website read.
Despite being back at work, both firms have had to engage in some substantial reshuffling of employees. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter has been able to account for all but between 30 and 40 of the 3700 employees it had spread across 25 floors and two World Trade Center buildings, according to the company website. It has relocated employees to other offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey, according to the company's website.
Merrill Lynch has only two missing employees who were visiting the World Trade Center for business at the time of the attacks, spokeswoman Morris says. Merrill Lynch did not have offices in the World Trade Center. It is located in the nearby World Financial Center.
Approximately 9000 Merrill Lynch employees have been relocated from the World Financial Center to offices in Manhattan, Connecticut and New Jersey, Morris says.
As the US stock exchanges resumed trading again, so too did electronic trading company Instinet, though some of its operations had been running since last week. Instinet had offices on three floors in the North tower of the World Trade Center, but those operations are now being run out of offices in Manhattan and at the company's disaster recovery center in Jersey City, New Jersey, says Silvia Davi, director of public relations at Instinet.
To get back to work, some companies have turned to the help offered by other firms. One company offering aid is Comdisco, a technology services company based in Rosemont, Illinois. Ninety companies have made declarations for help to Comdisco, said Damian Walch, senior vice president, on a conference call held Monday by the research firm Gartner Group.
Of those 90 companies, 35 are currently active customers and are working at 35% to 40% capacity, Walch said. As an example of how companies are handling the situation, Walch cited one unnamed firm that is still missing 67 of 140 employees based in the World Trade Center. The company sent employees from its Chicago offices to New York, has provided updated information on its website and has offered counselling to survivors and their families, he said.
Another company that had offices in the World Trade Center is Avesta Computer Services, a consulting and services firm with offices in New Jersey, California and India. Though it is "too soon to really say" what the effect will be on its business, Avesta lost only a small amount of data that was stored as paper only, according to Rushad Cassad, vice president of Avesta. The company backs up most of its data at its New Jersey offices, Cassad says. Though Avesta did not lose any employees in the attack -- which Cassad called "a blessing" -- he expects that it will be at least a week until the company is back operating close to full speed.
One body that has lost important data is the US Securities and Exchange Commission. An SEC office was destroyed in the attack and with it "material that was evidence of securities fraud which only existed in paper form," said William Malik, a Gartner analyst on Monday's conference call. The SEC also lost some audiotapes, he said.
The permanent loss of crucial documents underscores just how vital the need to back-up data is, Malik said. The SEC has not always made such copies because courts have sometimes been reluctant to accept them, he says. Nonetheless, when only a single copy of a document exists, companies must "develop a secured image (back up) and store and treat it as they would any other vital record," he said.
The companies that will come through this disaster, and others like it, the best are the ones that did the strongest planning testing and rehearsing for such situations, said Gartner analyst Donna Scott, who spoke on Monday's conference call.
(Michael Rold and Nancy Weil in Boston and Stacy Cowley in New York contributed to this report.)