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Printers Survive Disasters, Provide Tips

Hail, snow, hurricanes, floods, ice storms, and earthquakes are just a few of the unpredictable natural disasters that Americans faced last year. But when these disasters strike a printing business, or other unpredictable damage, such as a fire, print shop owners need to assess their business, help their customers and employees, and decide on the quickest route to opening their doors again.

"Once you've experienced one of these disasters, you have an incredible base of knowledge," says Chip Smith, president of Marshall & Bruce Printing Company, a specialist in general commercial printing and packaging and fulfillment services located in Nashville. "My advice to fellow printers is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst."

On May 21, 2011, a little after midnight, a two-alarm fire broke out at Thoroughbred Printing in Lexington, KY, causing significant damage to its printing plant. The firm's roof partially collapsed and its prepress, bindery, and customer service department were destroyed. Before the fire reached the press department, a heavy fire door dropped down stopping the flames. Firefighting work continued until 5:00 a.m. and investigators spent the next day at the scene.

"Fortunately for us we have a sister facility in Dayton, KY," says Barry Henry, Thoroughbred's co-owner and chief financial officer. "We were able to move our jobs to that facility and move all of our employees to Dayton three days a week for 12 hour shifts, where they lived in hotel rooms."

To reclaim the Lexington facility, Henry devised a three-point plan: first, get equipment back into the building. "There were two large printing equipment auctions in our area where we carefully purchased needed machinery," says Henry. Second, get the building back into workable shape. "Our existing building was larger than we needed," says Henry. "Before the fire, we were trying to rent out unused portions." Third, decide what to do with the front-office building. "The Lexington facility is unique in that it was built with an 1845 mansion in the front and then a long addition in the back for production, storage, and docks. We wanted to protect its historic nature."

Established more than 50 years ago, Thoroughbred Printing counts the University of Kentucky and Alltech as major clients. "Most important, no one was hurt," says Henry. "A lot of our work had just shipped out on Friday and we had just backed up all of our files the day before the fire. The cause of the fire was never determined."

Henry's advice:

  • Work closely with your insurance agent and help them to understand your particular business
  • Put together an emergency contingent plan with another local printer to help you during a disaster
  • Keep emergency contact information, along with cell phone numbers and landlines, readily available
  • Maintain a current list of equipment, when purchased, serial numbers, and cost for insurance and fire investigators

When Rivers Run Over

When the banks of the Cumberland River began to overflow in May 2010, management at Marshall & Bruce Printing Company began to feel uneasy. The 145-year-old printing firm sits across the street from the river that flows through Nashville. But even after 12- to 17-inches of rain fell in a 36-hour period, Chip Smith, the firm's president, felt his company was safe. The rain had ended and the river waters had not crossed the road.

But overnight, the river began to rise slowly. As the floodwaters began to peak the next afternoon, Marshall & Bruce's facility was engulfed in three feet of flood water that lasted for 36 hours. Its KBA Rapida 105 41-inch seven-color press with digital CIP4 signal transmission and fiber optics, with water up to the catwalks, was seriously damaged. The firm faced a massive clean-up and destruction of its customer's work and all of its supplies, and loss of or damage to many key pieces of equipment. For the next several months, the firm acted as a printing broker and was aided by other local printers and its local Printing Industry Association of the South.

Smith's advice: "Maintain good partnerships with all of your suppliers and your local Printing Industries of America association. We had an excellent rapport with our press supplier, KBA. They came to our aid and provided an incredible team of mechanics and electricians who stayed with us for seven weeks until our press was back running again."

Additional tips:

  • Know the subtleties of your insurance policy and be your own advocate
  • Compile a disaster recovery plan
  • Maintain a complete off-site back-up of customer files at a third party IT vendor
  • Maintain a social media site like Facebook where employees can turn for vital information and updates during the disaster
  • Retain an alternative employee contact list for the emergency management team

Seven months later, the firm was nearly back to normal. While the historic flood's insurance cost to Marshall & Bruce was assessed at $2million dollars, Smith gave thanks. "We have the greatest employees in the world," says Smith. "They pulled together and supported us."

Mother Nature Packs a Punch

A mid-April 2011 storm packing heavy winds tore through the Neenah, WI, region. Its ferocity gained strength on the evening of April 10, causing part of the roof and an exterior wall to collapse at the Outlook Group, a 30-year-old custom product packaging, direct mail, and commercial printer with more than 300 employees in two locations. The collapse caused a water main break at the firm's American Drive facility. In addition to significant structural damage to its facility, several key pieces of equipment were damaged by debris and water migration while two finishing lines were completely destroyed. A local television station said its building was in "tatters" and debris was strewn a football field away. Approximately 100,000 of its 650,000 sq.ft. were affected by the storm.

"Although we've never remotely experienced the magnitude or severity of this event, we were fortunate to get our business back up and running quickly and no one was hurt," says Jeff Cheak, Outlook's chief operating officer. Within approximately 18 hours, the power was restored and the building was declared structurally sound. Within 36 hours, some areas of the plant were up and running. A temporary wall was built quickly in the weeks after. A new wall and roof were constructed over the spring and summer and completed in September 2011.

"We invited all employees to an informational meeting on Tuesday to discuss the status of the building and recovery efforts," says Cheak. "Our employees responded to the disaster in an amazing way. Within minutes of the storm passing, there were employees on site trying to assess the damage and call the right people to start recovery. The response from our employees was overwhelming—everyone pitched in, working many hours and finding creative ways to fulfill our customer commitments during this time. The dedication and commitment of Outlook Group employees made this quick recovery possible."

The firm offers these tips:

  • Use the local radio and TV stations to notify employees not to come to work
  • Ensure that outsourcing plans are in place to help service customer needs as equipment is repaired and replaced.

Devise short-term production needs with local strategic printing and converting partners and coordinate reconstruction resources through networking, references, and recommendations. Outlook Group cannot say enough about the collaboration and assistance provided by our local community and business partners. Maintain an up-to-date disaster recovery plan; Outlook Group significantly enhanced its plan in 2007, providing greater granularity relative to each functional area's response, responsibilities, and communication process.

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