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7 days in September

Nov 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Crisis Management

On Sept. 17, 2004, the last remnants of Hurricane Ivan spawned 50 twisters in a single day. At approximately, 6:30 p.m., one of those tornadoes struck United Litho’s (ULI’s) Ashburn, VA, facility. All 22 employees who were in the plant escaped injury. None of them will ever forget that day—or the remarkable events that followed.

Friday, Sept. 17: The tornado hits
Minutes before the tornado slammed into the ULI plant, job coordinator Stoney Hanlin got on the intercom: “We’re about to get hit by a tornado! Find cover!”

Packing winds of up to 160 mph, the twister ripped off large portions of ULI’s roof—rain began pouring into the pressroom. Delivery doors were flung off their tracks and an exterior wall was severely damaged.

Two parked cars were hurled against the side of the building, severing a gas main. Employees immediately evacuated the plant and called 911. Loudoun County Fire and Rescue quickly arrived on the scene, where they ensured all employees were safe and secured the building until the gas supply could be shut off.

Operations manager Tom Naquin, assistant pressroom and finishing manager Tom Colville, and operations vice president Chris Azbill arrived on the scene within 30 minutes. The rest of UL’s senior management team was notified within the hour. Tim Somin, maintenance leader, contacted two key vendors: Conewago Construction, the company that built the Ashburn facility; and Heidelberg Web, manufacturer of ULI’s two M130 full-width web presses. (Goss now owns Heidelberg’s web division.)

Once permitted back in the building, some employees used area rugs to try to keep the water on the pressroom floor from running under the doors into the prepress and administrative areas, while others struggled to cover presses, consoles and a polybag machine with tarps and sheets of plastic.

After calling Dominion Virginia Power to ensure the main power to the ULI facility would remain off, Colville drove a forklift through the darkened plant in the pouring rain until after midnight, moving skids of mail and customer materials. After that, Naquin said, “There was nothing we could do but let it rain.”

Ivan's impact at a glance
Average schedule delay for affected jobs Two days
Ruined paper 106 tons
Poundls of paper needed to reprint damaged signatures 60,000
Number of days until the plant resumed running 24/7 Six
Amount of insurance claims ultimately submitted $800,000

Saturday, Sept. 18: The recovery process begins
At 6:30 a.m., Conewago’s Donald Smith arrived on site with the building’s original plans. Smith and Azbill then developed a plan to pull crews, equipment and materials from three other Conewago jobs. Roof demolition was scheduled for Monday, Sept. 20, with the new roof slated for completion by Wednesday, Sept. 22.

At 8 a.m., the rain stopped, leaving behind three inches of water on pressroom and bindery floors. (In accordance with EPA spill-containment regulations, there are no floor drains in the pressroom.)

Azbill created a pump using a portable generator, a Shop Vac, some plumbing fittings and 200 ft. of PVC pipe. Approximately 70 ULI current and former employees, spouses and families had come unbidden and these volunteers were soon wielding squeegees, brooms, mops and towels.

By mid-afternoon Saturday, the maintenance team began working on the electrical panels in the press room. “We covered every inch of every piece of equipment, using an electronic cleaner to keep the circuit boards from corroding, and left the panels opened up to dry out,” Somin said. “Thank goodness for a week of blue skies!”

Scheduling assistant Charlie Goode and client services manager Shannon Marzolf began evaluating the work in process. Approximately 100 titles were moving through the plant when the tornado hit.

“We had planned to play catch up that weekend,” Goode said, “with three overtime press crews and three overtime bindery crews scheduled to produce 14 jobs. And we had another two overtime press crews and one overtime bindery crew scheduled for the 20th through the 22nd.”

With Azbill’s directive that the presses would be running again by Wednesday, Goode began looking for job jackets and supporting materials for the jobs in production, while Colville and his crew reviewed the materials for those jobs—determining what forms were off-press and in good shape, what finished product had survived intact, and whether the required inserts and/or outserts needed were usable.

Sunday, Sept. 19: a proactive communications plan
Sunday dawned clear and bright. Power had been restored at about 7 a.m., and Somin and MIS manager David Jordan concentrated on bringing the “front offices,” including client services and prepress, back online. By midday, power, phones and network connectivity had been restored and account managers were back at work.

A full production meeting was scheduled at 2 p.m. Sunday for account managers and executives, scheduling and operations staff to sort through the work in process and establish communication with clients.

Sales and marketing vice president Wayne Peterson supervised a multi-tiered effort involving personal communication from account managers and account executives, as well as a daily news release providing updates on the recovery process. “We knew it would be critical to have information in our clients’ hands when they got to work on Monday,” Marzolf explained. “After the production meeting, we all went to work making dozens of phone calls and sending e-mails.”

Sunday afternoon, scheduling assistant Melissa Fisher began identifying outside vendors who could produce some of the issues currently in progress. Challenges included shipping paper to other facilities and, for jobs to be mailed elsewhere, re-sorting labels for the new point of entry, as well as special exceptions from the postal service.

Hugh Tolson, mail services manager, contacted the USPS office at Dulles and explained the problem, then crafted a letter asking for help in getting those jobs mailed. “They responded with one-time exceptions for entry, and facilitated the transfer of funds from the local post office to the post office in Hanover, NH,” Tolson said. Ultimately, eight jobs (300,000 books) were printed elsewhere: Dartmouth Printing Co., a sister company in The Sheridan Group, printed five titles, while Cadmus Specialty Publications—which had called to offer press hours as soon as they heard about the tornado damage—printed three more. ULI account managers remained the point of contact for all titles.

Monday, Sept. 20: stitching, binding and roof removal
As crews removed what was left of the roof, Heidelberg technicians continued to work with Somin’s team to dry out the presses and replace damaged circuits or systems.

Bindery employees stitched and perfect bound titles that were otherwise complete for Monday and Tuesday delivery. Mail list service employees reran labels, bag tags and postal documents that had been damaged. In the prepress department, operators prepared files for outsourcing as well as those needed to replace the 425 plates that had been exposed to the rain.

Tuesday, Sept. 21: starry night
By Tuesday evening, operators were running paper through the eight-unit press and checking components and controls. Later that night, press crews ran live jobs. Because the entire roof had been removed, most of the bindery and presswork was done under the stars.

Wednesday, Sept. 22: up and down
Production proceeded even as roofers worked overhead. Hard hats were mandatory to protect those below from dropped nuts, bolts, insulation and roofing materials. By Wednesday evening, both presses were up and running, albeit with a few kinks: web guides weren’t working properly on the eight-unit press, and the five-unit had some problems with the drive motor and register control system. “They were up and down all night,” Somin said. “And we were placing orders left and right for new parts. We used all the parts we keep in stock.”

Thursday, Sept. 23: 24/7
Both presses were crewed to run 24/7 to get through the work backlog. “A normal staffing week is 180 to 204 hours on our presses,” Goode explained. “When we started working around the clock, the press staffing week expanded to 336 hours.” One week after the tornado hit, both presses were running at 75 percent of capacity. Goode observed that while the plant delivers 25 jobs in an average week, 44 jobs were produced during the week of September 27th. All told, from Monday, September 20, through Friday, October 8—despite having lost 130 press hours and 60 bindery hours—ULI delivered 100 jobs: 28 of them on time, 38 one or two days late, and another 34 three to five days late. Significantly, only two jobs were pulled from the schedule—and ULI did not miss any of the 23 critical dates on its schedule. By October 11, the plant was back to full on-time performance.

ULI’s recovery effort was boosted by several fortunate twists of fate. First, and most importantly, no employees were injured during the storm or its aftermath. Second, many potential electrical hazards were eliminated because the building lost power before the roof was blown off—the damage would almost certainly have been greater had there been electricity running through the equipment when the rain started to fall inside the building. Finally, the weather cleared almost immediately and the ensuing week of cool, dry days expedited press refurbishment and roof reconstruction.

Heidelberg and Conewago’s prompt response to the emergency were invaluable. But even more critical, president Ken Garner said,was the unflagging spirit of ULI’s employees. “Our recovery truly was miraculous,” he said. “But like most things that happen here, it didn’t happen by accident. We talk a lot about the importance of our organizational culture, and sometimes it seems kind of abstract. But it was tangible during the recovery. The individual and collective commitment and cooperation were really something to see! I’ve been amazed at how people responded—everyone was willing to do whatever was required to get our company back on its feet again.

“It’s not something I’d ever want to go through again,” Garner said, “but it’s certainly shown me how incredibly resilient we are. I don’t believe any other company could have accomplished so much in so little time.”

Rebecca Hoeckele is the editor of United Litho’s customer newsletter, “PressProof,” where a longer version of this article first appeared. A former managing editor of Police Chief magazine, she has been with United Litho’s sales and marketing department for five years and is responsible for customer training, as well as a variety of corporate communications.

‘We’re about to get hit by a tornado!’
Twenty-two employees were working the evening shift at United Litho on September 17, 2004. Many had been tracking the weather on the Internet throughout the afternoon and some had been alerted by friends and family that a tornado had been spotted nearby. As the funnel cloud got closer, several employees were drawn to the windows and even into the parking lot to watch it.

Preflight operator Angela Brittain and archiver Chris Filbert were in the parking lot, about to head home. Brittain noticed a “black swirly cloud” across nearby Waxpool Rd. “I’d never seen a tornado in person before,” she said later, “and I wasn’t sure it actually was one, so I ran back inside and yelled, ‘Hey, guys, come look! This is really cool!’”

At the other end of the building, the press crew had just finished a job when platemaker Christian Koval and proofer Gordon Dixon ran past the press shouting, “A tornado is coming!” “Luckily we weren’t running the presses, ‘cause we would have laughed them off,” said first pressman Mike Seese. “We don’t ever shut down the press once it’s up.” About 10 press and bindery crew members walked to the loading dock to watch just at the tornado crossed the road. “We were like, ‘Man, check it out!’ and ‘Wow, that’s what a tornado looks like!’”

‘A big gray monster’ in the parking lot
Seese and the others were watching, almost hypnotized, when he suddenly realized the funnel cloud was only about 100 yards away and heading toward the plant. “We tried to close the shipping door, and we got it down to about four ft. from the floor when we saw the tornado coming across the parking lot. It was a big gray monster, and boy, it was moving fast!”

The group ran for cover. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the building, job coordinator Stoney Hanlin grabbed a phone and issued an urgent warning over the intercom: “We’re about to get hit by a tornado! Find cover!”

Throughout the plant, there was a scramble for interior rooms—the server room, the scanning room and even the men’s room. Within seconds, the tornado struck. Prepress operator Derrick Mayhew took shelter in the men’s room. He expected to hear crashing glass and flying furniture, but found that a tremendous change in air pressure was the most memorable sensation. “There was just a loud wind noise for a few seconds and then a sudden quiet.”

In the pressroom, Seese lay on his back and watched the roof peel off. “It sounded like a jet ripping it off,” he said. Empty 55-gallon drums and plates flew through the air. The shipping door—where the group had been congregating moments before—blew in and wrapped itself around the stitcher while the wheels on the door shot through the air like bullets.

“People were dodging under equipment and storage racks,” Koval recalled. “You couldn’t see anything—there was a lot of wind and dust, and it was raining in the pressroom. Debris, insulation and paper were everywhere.”

After the winds subsided, Seese was walking around outside making sure everyone was okay, when he discovered parked cars had been thrown into the building, severing the main gas line. Scheduling assistant Charlie Goode, whose office is just outside the pressroom door, opened the door and heard a loud hissing and a press operator screaming, “We’ve got a gas leak!” Goode got on the intercom and immediately ordered an evacuation of the building.

Once outside, Goode called 911 and reported both the tornado damage and the gas line break. Loudoun County Fire and Rescue was soon on the scene with an ambulance and ladder truck.

About United Litho
Founded in 1970, United Litho (ULI) was purchased by the Sheridan Group in 1994. ULI specializes in short and midsize runs of magazines for association and special-interest publishers. The $32 million, 180-employee operation occupies a 70,000-sq.-ft. plant. See

Are you prepared?
Speaking this past April at the NAPL/R&E Council’s 47th annual postpress seminar, Ken Garner, president of United Litho, underscored the importance of effective disaster recovery planning.

He stressed the importance communications and explained how ULI informed customers about the extent of the damage, impact on their respective jobs and the recovery process timeframe.

The tornado struck on a Friday. On Sunday, all customer service and sales employees got together to develop a communications strategy. They phoned, faxed and e-mailed to ensure a written update awaited ULI’s customers first thing Monday morning. The ULI employees explained that although the roof was damaged, no records or files were lost and little work in process was damaged. They further noted that the plant was expected to be in full production later that week and that account managers would be in touch with scheduling information. Daily bulletins continued throughout the week.

The proactive communications approach helped alleviate customer anxiety. Accurate and detailed information gave customers confidence that while UL might have been stirred, it wasn’t shaken.
—Katherine O’Brien, editor, AMERICAN PRINTER