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The Show Must Go On

On a clear afternoon in August, people stood on the corner of Wells and North Avenue in Chicago watching billows of black smoke rise from a building on fire. The sounds of firetrucks filled the air as firemen rushed to the scene like a well coordinated SWAT team.  Television crews began popping up on the sidewalks. News helicopters hovered in the skies above.  What seemed like a minor kitchen fire quickly spread into a five alarm blaze.

This was not just any fire.  The iconic Second City Theater was engulfed in a wall of flames and water.  The starting point for comedic legends such as John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Tina Fey, etc. is a well loved and well known landmark in Chicago history.

The Second City is actually home to so much more than just comedy.  It’s not only the birthplace of comedic theater and improv, but home to training and development for corporations, and education for future writers and actors.  As the fire raged, the company continued selling tickets, processing emails and communicating the events as they unfolded.

Once the smoke had cleared, the public, and the media wondered “Would the company come back and if so, when and how?”   In the spirit of improv and with the foresight and wisdom of The Second City executive team along with the hard work of the Chicago Fire Department, the show will would go on!

The Second City operates three locations, Chicago (headquarters), Toronto and Los Angeles (Hollywood) while also supporting actors and teachers in the field all across the globe.  The recovery effort actually was in place well before the actual event of the fire.

Second City’s leadership recognized risks and weaknesses in their processes, operations, technology and finance.   A year ago the company saw the need to upgrade their internal processes and technology and outsourced their  IT operations to SAGIN, LLC.  SAGIN worked with Second City management to begin migrating hardware, software, email and communications to cloud based solutions while upgrading its IT infrastructure and communication lines.  The finance team also re-evaluated insurance coverage and realigned the coverage with the risks associated with the business.

second city stageAfter the fire, it was determined that it had orginated in a restaurant in the same building as the company.  No matter how much preparation and risk mitigation takes place, some events in the workplace are beyond a business’s control.  The company’s actions leading up to the event allowed the organization to continue to operate.  The company’s insurance provider, The Hartford, help bridge the financial gap.  SAGIN, LLC kept the systems operating and helped The Second City relocate to offices with temporary space while the theater performances were moved to other theaters for a full two weeks.   The Chicago Fire Department took great care in how they controlled and extinguished the fire preserving the iconic theater.  Second City quickly appointed project leader Tyler Alexander, to manage the recovery and restoration.  After surveying the damage, it was found the offices would have to be completely rebuilt and the corporate headquarters would not be restored to full functionality for over a year.   The company’s CFO, Michael Gart, worked to secure a more permanent space and worked with SAGIN and their team to relocate the corporate offices to Chicago’s historic Tribune building.  This was turned around very quickly due to the resiliance of Second City’s people, culture and the flexibility and accessibilty of its technology design.

There were some missteps along the way commonly found with most companies.  The Second City realized that no matter what risks had been mitigated, they needed a business continuity plan to act as a playbook when a threatening event occurs.

Severe disruptions to the business cannot always be avoided but preparing for them in advance can separate you from the competition and can play a big part in keeping the lights on.  Key risk mitigation strategies any organization should follow include:

  1. Annually perform an objective risk assessment of the business strategy, operations, systems, people and assets. This should be comprehensive and not a “check the box” survey but rather a critical evaluation whether the company can continue to operate given different scenarios/events.
  1. Develop a solid risk mitigation plan and fund the most critical aspects of that plan. Many companies are hesitant to throw money at projects which are designated as “what if” scenarios.   Choose projects that not only mitigate risks but also improve the current opperations.   Prior to the fire, Second City made decisions to upgrade infrastructure, build in redundancy and to move systems off-site.
  1. Create a procedures manual of actions to be taken when different events and scenarios occur. These should not be limited to events such as a fire but expanded to those which can occur in the business such as: active shooter, flood, power failure, hurricane, etc.  The scenarios should be specific to the type of business/industry and geographical location a company operates.
  1. Practice the plan! An emergency procedures manual is only as good as the employees understanding of what to do.

To follow up. When the dust settled, The Second City was prepared (and a little lucky) and coined the creative phrase “Where There’s Smoke There’s Satire!”  Management also learned the importantance of risk mangement and planning and will continue to reevaluate policies and procedures that, in time, will lead to developing and implementing a more comprehensive business continuty plan.

Second City’s recovery from this event is attributed to the people of Second City, The Hartford, SAGIN and the Chicago Fire Department…proving the show must go on!

Contact Brandon Patrick – or 312-281-0290 to learn more.

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