Early in the morning on April 13, 1992, basements in Chicago’s downtown central business district began to flood. A hole the size of an automobile had developed between the river and an adjacent abandoned tunnel. The tunnel, built in the early 1900s for transporting coal, runs throughout the downtown area. When the tunnel flooded, so did the basements connected to it, some 272 in all, including that of major retailer Marshall Field’s.
The problem was first noted at 5:30 A.M. by a member of the Marshall Field’s trouble desk who saw water pouring into the basement. The manager of maintenance was notified and immediately took charge. His first actions were to contact the Chicago Fire and Water Departments, and Marshall Field’s parent company, Dayton Hudson in Minneapolis. Electricity—and with it all elevator, computer, communication, and security services for the 15-story building—would soon be lost. The building was evacuated and elevators were moved above basement levels. A command post was quickly established and a team formed from various departments such as facilities, security, human resources, public relations, and financial, legal, insurance, and support services. Later that day, members of Dayton Hudson’s risk management group arrived from Minneapolis to take over coordinating the team’s efforts. The team initially met twice a week to evaluate progress as the store recovered. The goal of the team was to ensure the safety of employees and customers, minimize flood damage, and resume normal operations as soon as possible. The team hoped to open the store to customers 1 week after the flood began.
An attempt was made to pump out the water; however, as long as the tunnel hole remained unrepaired, the Chicago River continued to pour into the basements. Thus, the basements remained flooded until the tunnel was sealed and the Army Corps of Engineers could give approval to start pumping. Everything in the second-level basement was a loss, including equipment for security, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, fire sprinkling, and mechanical services. Most merchandise in the first-level basement stockrooms also was lost.
Electricians worked around the clock to install emergency generators and restore lighting and elevator service. Additional security officers were hired. An emergency pumping system and new piping to the water sprinkling tank were installed so the sprinkler system could be reactivated. Measures were taken to monitor ventilation and air quality and dehumidifiers and fans were installed to improve air quality. Within the week, inspectors from the City of Chicago and OSHA gave approval to reopen the store.
During this time, engineers had repaired the hole in the tunnel. After water was drained from the Marshall Field’s basements, damaged merchandise was removed and sold to a salvager. The second basement had to be gutted to assure removal of contaminants. Salvageable machinery had to be disassembled and sanitized.
The extent of the damage was assessed and insurance claims filed. A construction company was hired to manage restoration of the damaged areas. Throughout the ordeal, the public relations department dealt with the media, being candid yet showing confidence in the recovery effort. Customers had to be assured that the store was safe and employees kept apprised of the recovery effort.
This case illustrates crisis management, an important aspect of which is having a team that moves fast to minimize losses and quickly recover damages. At the beginning of a disaster there is little time to plan, though companies and public agencies often have crisis guidelines for responding to emergency situations. Afterwards they then develop more specific, detailed plans to guide longer-term recovery efforts.
1. In what ways are the Marshall Field’s flood disaster recovery effort a project? Why are...