Resources

If you are looking for information on the BCI NE Forum then click here.

We hope the following resources may be of interest to you.

Incidents

Publications

  • A Practical Approach to Business Impact Analysis : BSI ISBN 978-0-580-73101-3 Available from: Continuity Shop or BSI
  • Risk Evaluation and Control : in The Definitive Handbook of Business Continuity Management ed. A.Hiles and P.Barnes (Wiley)
  • A variety of published papers on aspects of BCM, Risk and Resilience.

Tools

Business Continuity Links

Other links that might be of interest

(but will take you away from this site)
Continuity Central Business Continuity News and Resources

"Topical incidents...."

Bouncing back from a fire

Asos, the online fashion retailer, knows about coping with major disruptions - it suffered major damage when the Buncefield oil depot exploded in 2005. In June 2014 a suspected arson attack at its main warehouse in Barnsley damaged about 20% of the stock held there. The fire raised fears that the company could be out of operation for a long time but it resumed taking orders within two days and launched a massive summer sale to woo back customers. The better-than-expected speed of recovery saw the shares close up more than 2% the following week.

Extreme Business Continuity

On a recent trip I had a fascinating discussion with a BC practitioner operating in an occupied territory. We often look to the authorities in control for assistance during an incident - in this case it is the hostile authorities that could well be cause of the disruption to operations. And we usually consider compliance to be a major parameter of our business practices but in this case, compliance with the rules would have made the effective management of the situation impossible - so they needed to be circumvented in some circumstances. The challenges are daunting!

Learn further valuable lessons from past incidents....

How long can I tolerate an outage?

The reality of the term "maximum tolerable period of disruption" was much in evidence in the recent Blackberry outage. Everyone was talking about how long it had gone on and disgruntled users giving RIM a deadline after which they would find another network. It is too early to judge whether a three day outage is survivable - but it would be interesting to know whether this had been discussed internally in a BIA. As usual in this case, the cause of the problem was not a factor - only the duration. However it should be a concern to customers that there was no working back-up system to a service on which so many relied for their businesses.

Volcanic ash brings companies to a halt! Updated

October 2011 - a recent increase in tremors may indicate that Katla is preparing to erupt again.

The eruption of the volcano under Eyjarfjallajokull ('jokull' is Icelandic for 'icecap') disrupted car manufacturers in Germany and Japan who were relying on air freight for parts. Volcanic eruptions occur in Iceland roughly every ten years so it is not an unusual event (though the wind direction was unusual).

Some ferry services between the UK and European mainland have been withdrawn as 'low-cost' airlines have made sea routes unviable - losing the 'resilience' of alternative transport.

Some organisations were caught out because staff were on holiday abroad and unable to return due to cancelled flights. They took out the plans developed for pandemics - and found many of the answers they needed. That's why BCM plans are generic not incident-specific.

In the past when this volcano has exploded - in 920, 1612 and 1821-23, Katla, a much bigger volcano, has erupted soon after and caused crop damage, political upheaval and significant economic impacts to much less technologically sophisticated societies.

What an anti-climax!

When a Russian bomb squad rushed to a post office to diffuse a ticking package, they were prepared for even the most sophisticated of devices. But this daring mission climaxed in a rather different way than others had before. As they tentatively unwrapped the parcel, they didn't find a time bomb but a pulsating vibrator. The incident happened at Petrozavodsk in the republic of Karelia, northern Russia, after a nervous postal worker called in a suspect package.

A police spokeswoman told AFP: 'The post building was ringed by the security forces and people were evacuated. 'In the package the bomb squad found a vibrator.' She said the sex toy appeared to have been turned on 'by accident'. (Information from the Daily Mail, 16 March, 2011)

The twist to this story is that a team on the Developing and Managing Exercises course in 2006 had developed a scenario very similar to this (and recently received a BANG award for it). It also happened in a left-luggage locker at Leeds Bus station that year.

The last e-trumpet - you have h(eaven)-mail!

A website 'YouveBeenLeftBehind.com' for $40 fee 'gives you one last opportunity to reach your lost family and friends For Christ' by sending an e-mail at the Second Coming. According to the website 'there will be a small window of time where they might be reached for the kingdom of God'.

The issue of the size of an incident that an organisation decides to plan for (sometimes termed 'Maximum Survivable Incident') should always be clear in a Business Continuity strategy. The site's creator told the Guardian 'The web team is spread out as far apart in the US as is possible to prevent against more than one member being taken out by attack, natural disaster or epidemic'. Clearly this website believes that there is a good chance that its servers and the web will survive (at least for a while) the 'Rapture' in the US long enough for the messages to be delivered. Though it is questionable that the potential recipients will be sitting at their PCs when the alternative is viewing the spectacle of heavenly choirs and trumpets. (Information from the Guardian, June 16, 2008)

Company buys fire engine for drought response

The Chelsea Building Society who has offices in Cheltenham found a novel way to cope with the failure of mains water following the flooding of a water treatment works. Finding that there was water in the soakaways around the building, they bought a fire engine on e-bay to pump the water out and into the tanks so they could flush the toilets. Any idea what they could do with it now?

It couldn't possumly happen!

A possum exploded on a powerline in Wairarapa, New Zealand, leaving thousands of homes without power and causing electricity to arc through the air blowing up a nearby water main. (The Guardian, May 31, 2007).

Does it sound like a believable scenario for a Business Continuity Exercise involving loss of services to a building (at least in New Zealand)?

Earthquakes don't happen in the UK do they?

Homes were evacuated, power lines were cut and emergency services were inundated with calls yesterday after parts of Kent were shaken by an unusual British occurrence - an earthquake. The tremor, which measured 4.3 on the Richter scale, struck just after 8.15am. (The Observer, Sunday April 29, 2007)

While earthquakes are rare in the UK, they are not uncommon. Substantial damage was was caused in SE England by quakes in 1382 and 1580 and less damaging ones occurred in 1776 and 1950. Other hotspots include the Pennines, North Wales and Central Scotland - from Glasgow to Comrie (known locally as 'Shakey Toun').

Sticky pudding!

Great Yarmouth, England - The streets were paved with SEMOLINA this week when more than two tonnes of the grain billowed out of a silo and scattered over the Norfolk Town. Firstly there was a fine dusting of the coarsely ground covering the area, but when council workers tried to wash it away with water, the sodden semolina turned into a gooey pudding mess. Blobs of the dessert clotted in corners and over kerbstones and caused a bit of chaos. Pavements had to be closed as the wet semolina turned them into an ice rink. From The Guardian, October 30, 2006

Rats!

Wellington, New Zealand - According to a statement, rats are confirmed to be the cause of a telecommunications blackout which lasted for more than four hours in New Zealand. The rats ate through cable crippling the telecommunications services infrastructure, and leaving telephone, mobile, and Internet services offline. Telecom New Zealand says the outages affected about 100,000 customers, and led to the nation's stock exchange being closed for most of the trading day.

According to the company, the rats ate through cable near Wellington, damaging a service pipeline on the North Island. Unfortunately, within hours a power company post-hole digger disabled another pipeline, causing the blackout. Telecom New Zealand is looking into bringing charges against the power company that took out their second pole, to help pay for the losses incurred by the failure. All Headline News, June 24, 2005

Mere duplication of critical infrastructure may be insufficient - the rule in systems such as Air Traffic Control is 'Three primary plus one back-up'.

Flooding in Carlisle

The Civil Contingencies Bill requires the Emergency Services to have Business Continuity Plans. The need for this was amply demonstrated by the flooding in Carlisle (8/1/05) affecting an area which the Environment Agency had very accurately predicted though they were able to provide little warning of its timing. The Police Station, the Fire Station and the Civic Centre were under several feet of water at the height of the flood, hampering their response. Fortunately over 900 years ago the builders of the Castle chose a higher site so the multi-agency response was masterminded from there by the Emergency Planning Unit. A week on the clean-up is progressing but there is concern about the impact on local businesses and the biscuit factory (known locally as Carr's - of Water (!) Biscuit fame) of the costs of the clean-up operation.

Private gym puts recruiting first as council leisure centre burns

Staff at a private gym proved a bit too quick off the starting blocks when an accidental fire sent black clouds of smoke billowing from their council-run rival - to the astonishment of onlookers, they ran to the scene to dish out promotional leaflets and membership deals. Firefighters were still tackling the blaze at Bury St Edmunds leisure centre, in Suffolk, when the posse arrived to promote the Fitness First centre as an alternative during repairs.

The Guardian, September 29, 2004

Does your Business Impact Assessment take into account how competitors would respond to your difficulties? Would they stand back and watch, would they help or would they see your distress as an opportunity to take your customers and even destroy you? After the Bishopsgate bomb, City insurers not affected by the incident did not to take advantage of the situation, though American insurers were less inhibited by the circumstances of this 'opportunity'. You need to understand how those around you would react to your misfortune to be able to assess 'Business Impact'.

Fire as an art form

Whilst not wanting to pass any judgement on the quality of the art destroyed in the east London warehouse where hundreds of works by leading British artists were stored, there are some useful lessons to be learnt about the issues of using multiple occupancy buildings. There were 34 units in the block converted from an old Chubb lock factory, which housed a variety of workshops including a carpenter, a car workshop, a cleaners ; mostly family run businesses. One larger unit belonged to a removal firm who, lacking goods to fill it, rented the space to Momart. Burglers raided a unit at the other end of the building containing reconditioned cordless phones and then set fire to it to cover their tracks. None of the units appeared to have working intrusion or fire monitoring systems and it was passers-by that raised the alarm. The fire spread quickly to all of the units completely destroying their contents and the many works of art in the Momart store. (May 24th 2004)

If you share premises with other companies have you any assurance about their level of monitoring and their response to a major incident. If you rent premises, does your landlord take these issues as seriously as you would like ; does he have plans to react to an emergency, minimise your loss and provide you with access at the earliest opportunity. Other issues that can occur in multiple occupancy buildings are conflicts over evacuation procedures and the frequency of testing.

Power down

Electricity supplies are slowly being restored in Italy, after the worst power failure in its history. Much of the capital, Rome, and the north of the country are now reconnected, and the south of Italy is also returning to normal. Only the island of Sardinia escaped the outage, which struck at about 0330 (0130GMT) on Sunday morning. About 110 trains were reported to have been brought to a standstill across the country - trapping more than 30,000 people. Water supplies were also affected and hospitals reported a spate of accidents involving elderly people. (BBC News Website)

There seems to be a spate of power outages afflicting the eastern US, parts of London, Copenhagen and now the whole of Italy. A business can usually cope with short, localised power outages through the use of generators for urgent systems. However a widespread and prolonged power outage causes impacts which are far harder to manage. Staff may be unable or unwilling to come to work through dark streets with no trains and no traffic lights. Where will they eat at lunchtime if cafes have closed. Will deliveries and collections continue to operate? The traditional BC response has been to relocate to alternative premises but with the loss of power over such a wide area, and transport disrupted this is not possible.

There are no obvious solutions but perhaps a re-evaluation of the 'maximum tolerable outage' of many business functions would be in order following actual experiences. In a widespread incident customers expectations are lower except for the necessities of life - thus enabling one to argue the case against the manager who insists on an unrealistic 'immediate' resumption of their operation under all circumstances.

T'was on the Monday morning....

To lose one (utility) is unfortunate, to lose three......

Phones on an industrial estate in Godalming, Surrey fell silent when a over-large lorry ripped down the telephone wires. The telecom company were quickly on the scene and set about digging a trench to lay replacement cables. Unfortunately in their enthusiasm they managed to crack the water main to the estate - so the water had to be turned off. Anxious to complete the job, the telephone contractors called in the water contractors who set about mending the water main by digging a trench around it. Unfortunately they fractured the gas main so the gas went off too!

Source: The Guardian

A knotty naming dispute!

How could the ladies of the Knitting and Crochet Guild possibly offend anyone? Unfortunately 'Slipknot' is the title of their in-house magazine named after the first loop used to start off each new pattern. But it is also the name of a notorious, mask-wearing shock rock band who feature spitting and throwing-up in their performance in front of 'maggots' (their fans). The name overlap has led to abusive phone calls and a unpleasant e-mails to the Guild.

Perhaps your organisation's risk manager should keep an eye (or ear) on the developments in rock music.

Passwords

The results of this week's presidential elections in Mali won't be known for some time because the one and only person in possession of a rather important password has been in a car accident.

The computer technician involved in the crash has sole access to the PCs carrying the tallied votes. He is recovering in hospital, but no one knows when he'll be up and about.

(From silicon.com)

The World Trade Centre

Though the dust may have settled after the collapse of the two towers, it is too early to assess the impact of the event on the businesses in the towers and the surrounding area though this will, no doubt, be closely observed. Organisations will have to cope with recovery, perhaps having lost staff, competing with others for resources and against the background of a recession made worse by the incident.

An early lesson, though, is that initial coordination of the incident was hampered by the destruction of the city's emergency managmeent centre which was in the building. Perhaps a prestige location and a known terrorist target was not a good choice for a control centre though, of course, hindsight is a very exact science. No information has been forthcoming as to whether an alternative centre had been prepared.

The questions you should be asking are how close is your incident control centre to your main site? Is it likely to be caught up in the same incident or be included in a police cordon? This was the experience of Sun Alliance after the bomb in Manchester. Have you a fall-back plan, however rudimentary, to respond to such a situation?

For a account of the Business Continuity implications of the World Trade Centre collapse look in the published papers.

More water

Not all Business Continuity problems arrive with a bang, a recent one arrived with a splash and a puddle. A life insurance company recently took delivery of six mail bags delivered rather late and still wet having been recovered from a Royal Mail plane which had ditched in the Firth of Forth. Being prepared for all eventualities the BC team activated their salvage contract with a document recovery firm. The mail was taken away, dried and the key data e-mailed back to them for processing.

Water, water everywhere

The floods that brought misery to householders and difficulties to businesses in many parts of the UK this winter challenged at least two assumptions often made by contingency planners - extrapolation from historical data and exclusion zones.

Historical statsitics are often used to provide guidance in assessing the risk of natural catastrophies. Though floods in Yorkshire and on the Severn are reasonably regular occurences, their severity and the unprecedented flooding in Sussex defied any statistical prediction.

Most recovery facility suppliers attempt to manage the risk of concurrent invocations by offering each client an exclusion zone around their property of about 400m within which they will not offer the same DR resources to another client. Though there is no evidence that any recovery service subscriber was turned away this time, it will be interesting to see how the DR companies respond to requests for cover from those who survived this year's events. Flooding within a single river basin could impact many businesses which, though they are separated by tens of miles, could be innundated within a day or two of each other. DR suppliers operating a 'first-come, first-served' policy could be deluged by 'precautionary invocations' by those lower down a river valley following flood warnings upstream.

Planes don't fall out of the sky, do they.

The 'Jumbo Jet falling on the building' scenario is often used by risk analysts to attempt to discredit the business continuity specialist. In terms of risk it is seen as such an unlikely scenario as to be not worth considering. But while the Lockerbie trial was in session another plane brought a long established business to a halt. Linatex had been in production long enough to have made rubber components for RAF aircraft that helped win World War II yet on 23rd December 2000 they had an unwelcomed visitor to their, fortunately, deserted factory - the staff had been given the day off for Christmas shopping.

A light aircraft that took off from Blackbushe airport near Yateley, Hants crashed into Linatex - a plastics and rubber components factory in Blackbushe, bursting through the aluminium front and skidding for about 25m before exploding with a blast that blew out the walls of the building. Clouds of poisonous fumes billowing from the building prompted the evacuation of local residents. Guardian 23rd Dec.2000

How long will your UPS operate?

An increase in power consumption due to a spell of cold weather the state's independent power operator has declared level 2 electrical emergencies 3 days in a row as reserves dropped below 5%. If reserves fall below 1%5 a Stage 3 emergency is declared and rotating black-outs imposed.

GlobalContinuity 17/11/00

You might expect such power difficulties from a developing country but these long-running difficulties are in one of the most highly developed parts of the richest country in the world. Shares in UPS manufacturers might be a good bet but how many sets are capable of providing full power to a business over a long period. The power crisis in Aukland (see archive) showed that having your own power supply was not sufficient if other businesses on which you depend were less well prepared.

The fuel crisis...a geographical view.

If any contingency planner had proposed a scenario of a countrywide fuel shortage they would have been laughed at a few weeks ago. However panic buying and the unexpected collusion of the oil companies (who thought that their own significant tax concessions were under threat) saw the country brought to a halt within a few days. Then the action was lifted but with a threat of further action.

Of course, a shortage of fuel is not the only situation that can prevent travel so the impact of difficult travelling conditions on your recovery plans should be examined. Many plans seem to assume that, despite all the odds, on the day you need it all transport modes will be working smoothly to convey your staff to their alternative and often remote locations. Those who take the decision on the selection of recovery sites are often senior staff with company cars yet the majority of staff who will use the site are likely to be using a family car or public transport and may have tight timescales for family commitments such as collecting children from school. Recovery locations should be chosen at least in part by how easily they can be reached by staff from their home locations - ideally some staff should be closer to the back-up site that to their normal work location. There will always be a concern that an expensively maintained recovery site that is too far away will be useless when it is needed because too many staff are unable or unwilling to travel to it.

The distance between home and work should also be a consideration in the choice of key recovery staff - especially those concerned with handling the media response. One county EPO was unable to reach a meeting about the fuel crisis because he hadn't got petrol for the 120 mile round trip - perhaps that should prompt questions.

I love you.... Not!

Cost put at $1bn as love bug mutates (Guardian May 6th 2000)

The UK Parliament, Pentagon, CIA, US Congress as well as around 40% of UK companies were all badly affected by the love bug virus on 4th May. Microsoft were unrepentant - saying that 'A virus can only spread if the person who receives infected mail opens it'. Perhaps the US courts, rather than aiming to split Microsoft up, should insist that they devote some of their enormous resources to fixing the bugs and holes that make it so easy for virus writers to target their software. Try the 'ShieldsUp' website at www.grc.com to see how some lazy bindings programming has left vulnerabilities - and what to do about them.

Telephone services are resilient, aren't they?

The call centres of several large companies, including the AA and NatWest, were quieter than normal from 10:30 am on Friday 25th February 2000 because calls to 0345, 0800 and 0845 numbers via BT gateways at Cambridge, Leeds and Croydon failed due to a faulty switch. Service was finally resumed at 2:30 pm on Saturday but the repercussions were not over. Call centres were inundated on the following Monday and there are bound to be compensation claims by bank customers for urgent payments that could not be made.

BT drops a banger

Alison McKenzie telephoned a 24-hour environmental health helpline about a mouldy sausage to find that her message had been duplicated to police forces voicebanks, and then to doctors, nurses, businessmen with BT pager numbers beginning '01426'. She was then inundated by calls from all over the country asking what they were expected to do about the sausage. Safeways can't be too amused either.

Information from Guardian May 4th 2000.
Reputation on the stocks

Given the long and apparently-stalled discussions between the London and Frankfurt Stock Exchanges over a merger, was it just coincidence that an agreement seemed to be reached with undue haste within a few weeks of the failure of the London exchange's computer systems on the crucial last trading day of the financial year? The agreement will see the system that failed replaced by the German systems and appears to dent London's belief in its preeminance as the European financial capital.

Have you checked your plan with the Emergency Services?

P&O Stena Line's computer systems that manage the loading of ferries at Dover Docks are highly resilient, being split between two data centres, two miles apart with back-up circuits. However when a technical fault crashed the system in September 1999, police invoked part of their Operation Stack emergency plan which involved parking all the lorries on the M20. The interruption was significantly prolonged because the temporary lorry park and resulting traffic chaos delayed both technical staff and replacement equipment from reaching either site.

Computer Weekly 9/9/99).
Too late for a recovery program?

A blaze at VA Tech Peebles Transformers in Edinburgh has put 400 out of work. Senior executives insisted that it was too early to say what impact the fire would have on the business - hardly an encouragement to the staff who would attempt any recovery. The general manager said 'We are currently assessing the impact of the fire on our business and devising a recovery program'.

from The Herald, April 13th 1999
Accessible or inaccessible?

Commercial estate agents always extol the proximity of a factory or office site to a motorway. However this can also be a threat and one that is almost impossible to manage. The deadly cocktail of cargoes that travel at high speed along our overcrowded motorways can severely impact businesses near to the site of a pile-up. A lorry carrying cylinders of hydrogen overturned and burst into flames on the M74 on January 27th 1999. The police stopped traffic and threw a mile-wide exclusion zone for several hours around the lorry in case the cylinders exploded. There were 30-mile tailbacks which took all day to clear. The impact of this accident in a built-up area can only be imagined.

Whilst this incident was of short duration a chemical spillage on the A19 near Thornaby led to several weeks of road closure while the carcinogenic compound was cleaned off the road and out of streams. Though the police have to be informed of wide or slow moving vehicles there is no register of movements of chemical or radioactive loads so the emergency services tend to err on the side of caution in sizing exclusion zones until the exact nature of the danger can be determined.

Another explosion closed the M3 for hours as a propane tanker was involved in a collision on 6/3/00.

Have you checked that the nuclear warhead convoys between Berkshire, East Anglia and Scotland don't come close to your site?

Safe as houses?

Companies may use secure storage for documents that must be kept for statutory or legal purposes believing that to take them off-site is sufficient protection. A fire in a secure 'bunker' in Birmingham in November 1998 destroyed millions of documents including the title deeds of 300,000 houses deposited by a building society. The fire was apparently started by a 13-year-old boy and burned for four days.

Duplication, either by photocopying or some form of imaging, is the only way to ensure survival of vital documents and, of course, the copies must be kept physically separate from the originals.

Insurance? Not when the chips are down

My local fish & chip shop burnt down in February 1998 the day after its deep frier had been serviced. Six months later it re-opened after a complete refit which I assumed had been paid for by insurance. But this was not the case. The shop's insurance company are in dispute with the insurers of the company who undertook the frier service. It appears that until this is resolved the shop will receive no payout. However the shop's owners realised that if they didn't reopen soon it could be too late if another outlet opened in the area. So they have paid for the rebuild out of their own pockets. They will eventually receive the money to which they are entitled but the business is currently saddled with interest on a debt at the same time it is trying to win back its customers. Cash-flow difficulties are a frequent cause of business failure after a major interruption so don't assume that insurance will fund the recovery costs when you need it most.

Do we take utilities for granted (2)?
Based on information from Reuters

Most businesses in the State of Victoria, Austrialia were left without gas following an explosion at Esso's Longford processing complex on September 25th as the limited remaining supplies were redirected to essential users. Gas started to flow again on October 4th, more than a week later. Hundreds of industrial users such as bakeries, cafes, car plants and paper mills were forced to take a week's holiday and other businesses relying on gas for heating had to try to find alternatives. Losses are estimated at A$55M per day and insurers are trying to dispel fears that they might not pay out because the state had redirected the gas supply.

In the UK this type of event could be even more serious since we rely heavily on gas-fired power stations at times of peak demand on the National Grid. The gas power stations are able to buy gas so cheaply, compared to coal, because they have signed 'interruptible' contracts with the gas suppliers. This means that if there is a shortage of gas, the supplier can terminate the supply to the power stations immediately, giving no time to bring other power sources on line. Coal-fired stations may take several hours to reach generating potential from 'cold' so prolonged power cuts are inevitable. Even if we ignore the environmental arguements of squandering gas on generating electricity, the policy of allowing the UK's electricity supply to be at the mercy of the other main power utility seems reckless. A peak load, or gas supply failure such as that experienced in Victoria, could leave us without either gas or electricity.

How secure are your telecoms?
Based on information from Binomial International

The failure of the PanAmSat's Galaxy IV satellite on 19th May at 6:13pm EDT shows how dependant we have become on satellite communication. The major impacts were:

  • Most paging companies in the US were unable to provide services to hospitals, police and other customers
  • Thousands of Chevron petrol stations were unable to dispense fuel as credit card validation was inoperative
  • A supermarket chain's POS cash registers stopped working
  • 20% of United Airline's flights were delayed next day due to the lack of radar and weather information
  • Some TV channels which used other satellites were evicted to make way for others that have a guaranteed service

Some questions these events pose to all businesses.

  • Can your business survive the failure of your telecoms network? For how long? Two providers may be more resilient than one but check that they don't use the same routes or facilities at any point.
  • If you rely on pagers for your team, is there any fail-safe mechanism by which they can be notified of a failure and know not to rely on them.
  • When bandwidth is restricted by the service provider - will you be one of the ones cut? In an emergency mobile phone service is withdrawn to clear channels for 'vital' users (and that is unlikely to be you).
  • The end of millenium will coincide with a period of high sunspot activity in the regular 22-year cycle. The magnetic disturbances that result can cause severe disruption to satellites and this will be the first time that most commercial satellites have been exposed to this threat.

Anyone got a some string and a couple of tin cans?

Do we take utilities for granted?
From the Guardian: 14/3/98

As Aukland fumbled around in the dark for a solution to its electricity crisis, the power company, Mercury Energy, came up with an energy-saving idea likely to placate at least some in New Zealand's biggest city - two-and-a-half-hour lunch breaks.

The local Sunday Star-Times newspaper dismissed the idea. "For companies that have been struggling for nearly a month to cope with an erratic power supply, such belated advice reeks of telling granny how to suck eggs".

On February 22nd, four 20-year old power cables supplying Aukland failed plunging the CBD into darkness. Mercury Energy had laid off its own specialists to cut costs and therefore had to fly in engineers from Australia. Essential services have been kept going on emergency generators but even businesses with their own generators will have been hit hard by suppliers and services being without power.

As shops reopened on reduced power from two repaired cables and generators, Mercury Energy offered a compensation package of £30million for the losses which affected more than 8,500 businesses employing about 70,000 people as well as over 6,000 residents.

A similar incident in London was narrowly averted a few years ago by anti-terrorist investigations into a plot by the IRA to blow up a number of key electricity sub-stations simultaneously.