Briefing: How the Hobbs Industrial Estate explosion holds lessons for all in disaster recovery

By Tim Sheahan, Thursday 20 October 2011

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Earlier this month, an explosion at the Hobbs Industrial Estate in Lingfield, Surrey, placed the future of many companies nearby in the balance.


Hobbs Industrial Estate: an explosion at recycling firm eReco (pictured) has driven MI Print out of its premises

The incident, which was caused by an explosion at eReco, a company that specialised in electrical and print recycling, injured eight people, with one victim airlifted to King’s College Hospital in London.

Among the companies affected was MI Print, a seven-staff business run by Ian Donald, who was told following the blast that the company would never be able to trade from the estate again.

Most printers, especially those producing large transactional and direct mail volumes, will have strict contingency plans in place in case production is halted for even an hour.

But for smaller firms, the disaster recovery plan (DRP) will hopefully never have to cope with worse than a minor outage, with priority placed on restoring production quickly.

"Our DRP was to have everything backed-up off site, which we did. The only thing that let us down was our estimating equipment, which, thankfully, we managed to retrieve from the site before it was no longer safe," says Donald, whose company came close to the most severe disruption to print production possible that day.

"We are fortunate, because if our site had burnt out we would not have a business today, but as a result we do," he says.

One company that specialises in disaster recovery is Business Continuity, which was called into action to take on print and mail work with the Home Retail Group when BemroseBooth fell into administration in July 2010. 

In that time, the company output 600,000 pages of letters and statements per week.

"Companies often don’t realise how important it is to have emergency planning in place, but fortunately, this was not the case on this occasion," says Danny Brock, managing director of Business Continuity.

According to operations director Mark Allan, the company, by his own admission, only runs its machines "in anger" when the need arises.

He says: "When customers come in, we demonstrate our capabilities and the technical specification. We don’t cover anything that we haven’t seen or tested before. Some clients even have their own servers installed, but we provide very little data manipulation. Most of our work involves print-ready files."


Local support 

In MI Print’s case, it has been able to call on local printers and a loyal client base to keep business flowing until it is back up and running but in any case, printers need a back-up plan should the worse happen.

"The onus is on business owners to protect their business, so there should be a plan in place if disaster was to strike," says Paul Deane, joint managing director at Shuttleworth.

He adds: "You must go through the potential process of losing a server, a room or the whole plant, and what you would do if that was to happen."

One company that went through that process was Colour Quest, which was affected by the Buncefield oil depot explosion in December 2005, but recovered to merge with Buckingham Colour and create BCQ Group.

Chief executive Tyrone Spence says the experience was a "numbing" one and advises any print firm to pay close attention to its insurance policies should the worst ever happen.

"You may think it will never happen to you but ignoring the issue is the worst thing you can do. In addition to ensuring that your insurer will cover you for any outages, opt for indemnity insurance that covers 18 months, not the standard 12, as they will simply fly by," he adds.

According to Spence, it is important to have good relationships with other print companies in the area, a dialogue that meant Colour Quest was able to place work elsewhere on behalf of customers until the company was back on its feet.

"It is paramount that you maintain a close dialogue with your employees and clients. If production is put on hold, it pays to be clear with them so that everyone knows what the situation is," says Spence.

Planning, attention to detail and good communication with colleagues and clients are all key should the worst ever happen. And advice is at hand from your insurer, suppliers and advice bodies such as Business Link (

And if disaster strikes, it need not be all bad. As MI Print’s Donald says, "The positive thing to come out of this is that we now have the time to sit down to discuss what will make MI Print even better and more efficient than before."

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