Hurricanes, blackouts, ice storms – bring ’em on

Payroll firms equipped to handle almost any disaster

When Hurricane Juan slammed into the Maritimes in September last year packing winds in excess of 185 km/h, ADP payroll staff from across Canada picked up the slack for their Atlantic co-workers who were running for cover.

When 1998’s massive ice storm coated eastern Ontario and parts of Quebec, knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of people, payroll didn’t even get a slight chill.

And when the biggest blackout in history struck Ontario and much of the eastern United States in the summer of 2003, the lights stayed on in the payroll department.

In each case paycheques went out despite the disasters that disrupted the normal day-to-day activities of many Canadians. That’s because most payroll firms have elaborate contingency plans in place to make sure employers don’t miss a beat when it comes to paying staff in almost any situation.

Alvaro Orrantia, manager of security and business continuity for Mississauga, Ont.-based ADP Canada, a firm that handles payroll for 35,000 employers and nearly 3.5 million workers, said Hurricane Juan is a prime example of how payroll vendors are equipped to deal with disasters.

With no employees available in the Maritimes to deal with clients because ADP shut its offices on the East Coast, it had to spring its contingency plan into action. Since the payroll systems are centralized in Ontario, there wasn’t a problem in handling any data from across the country. But the call centres that handle inquiries from clients are not centralized, and therefore calls had to be redirected from the East Coast to areas where ADP call-centre staff were on the job and able to handle the extra workload.

“From a client’s perspective, it’s all transparent,” said Orrantia. “The client calls the same number but it’s directed to somewhere else. So the clients kept getting all the support they required for anything that had to do with their payroll transmissions.”

Last year’s massive blackout proved to be a bigger hurdle for ADP to jump through, said Orrantia.

The first problem was the lack of electricity. When the power kicked off across Ontario, a battery backup system kicked on to continue running the systems. That battery system is also fed by a generator, so ADP was able to keep the lights on during the entire blackout.

Critical staff were relocated to the building that had backup power. ADP also has a major call centre in the Toronto area. It relocated staff where possible to locations that had power, and then redirected calls to areas east and west that were unaffected by the power outage.

“So, again, the clients that were calling here did not notice any difference,” said Orrantia. “They were being rerouted to another location and were being supported, our systems remained unchanged and we didn’t miss any payroll at all and from a client’s perspective it was all done transparently.”

And while blackouts, winter storms and hurricanes all pose major threats, ADP is prepared for a knock-out punch to its central systems. If the facility where ADP operates from was completely destroyed, there is a backup data centre located about 50 kilometres away that would spring into action.

“We can just flip over to that data centre and continue operating,” he said. “Our information for recovery also is documented and is kept off-site so in case people are (killed or injured), another person can just come and use the documentation we have to recover our services for our clients.”

ADP tests the backup system annually, simulating a major disaster at its main facility and running several payroll cycles from the remote site.

ADP’s emergency staffing plan

Alvaro Orrantia, manager of security and business continuity for ADP Canada, said the hurricane that hit the Maritimes last year was a perfect scenario to test a system designed to keep ADP staff in touch.

“When Hurricane Juan was hitting the East Coast, we asked our employees not to go to work that day,” he said.

The first hurdle ADP faced was getting the word out to all of its employees in Atlantic Canada that they should not brave the storm in an attempt to travel to the office. As part of its disaster plan ADP had set up an 800 number for employees to phone when it was questionable if the offices would be open for business.

The line was designed to update employees on emergency situations, and through it ADP was able to transmit a message to its Maritime workforce to stay home and not venture out in the storm in an attempt to go to work, said Orrantia. It also informed employees of when they should next check in to find out if the status had changed.

“It proved to be a wonderful opportunity not only to test the efficiency of that line, but also to communicate a consistent message to all of the (employees),” said Orrantia.

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