Thor Technologies rebounds from September 11

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Rebuilding IT systems, locating permanent office space and getting back to business as usual have been the main priorities of security software provider Thor Technologies over the last few weeks. Formerly based on the 87th floor of Tower One at the World Trade Center, Thor Technologies was one of the companies lucky enough to survive the September 11 attack with all of its 42 employees accounted for.

Two of the company's top executives, CEO Brian Young and VP of Business Development John Aisien, were at separate security conferences in San Francisco and Arizona, respectively, when they heard news of the attack. Immediately the pair tried to contact their employees but quickly found telephone lines tied up. Instead, they got out their laptop computers and used the Internet to locate staff.

Not able to communicate via traditional e-mail, the two used Microsoft's MSN Instant Messenger (IM) to locate employees. They were aided by a group of employees who work from home and had already started to compile a list of colleagues they had contacted. Additionally, a handful of developers who generally come in later in the morning were at home when they heard of the attack. They stayed put to help out in the effort to contact other employees.

Young and Aisien joined in the effort, using MSN IM to see who was logged on from the office. Again using MSN IM, they were able to contact the company's human resources manager, who was on a train with her laptop powered up. With a cell phone, she called Thor's healthcare provider to get emergency contact information for the company's employees.

Working from the employee list and employing phone, email and IM, Young and Aisien communicated with all but four of their employees by Tuesday evening. Since three of the unaccounted for employees were in the basement concourse at the time of the attack, there were several nerve-wracking hours. By that evening, all but one had been accounted for.

Through all the chaos, one of the main priorities of New York police and firefighters was to get people out of the city, so many were shuttled, carted and driven to random locations outside Manhattan. The lone missing Thor employee was first taken to Battery Park City, from where a commercial barge took him and others to Ellis Island. From there he was taken to a military base in New Jersey where he was given a meal, a shower and new clothes - his clothes having been destroyed by soot.

When he finally arrived home late that night, he realized his boss was looking for him. He called Young and by midnight, all Thor employees were accounted for.

The next morning the company had an executive meeting where one of the first orders of business was finding new office space. For therapeutic reasons as well as business interests, "it was very important for us to establish a physical location," says Aisien. Because of the enormous amount of office space destroyed, companies throughout the city were scrambling to find new locations. Nonetheless, by Friday Thor had lined up temporary office space on Park Avenue.

The IT staff had to start rebuilding the company's computer systems, ensuring all the employee benefits were in place and business assets were protected. Locating the tape with the code for Thor's core product, the e-provisioning tool Xellerate, was an important part of the rebuilding process. The company was able to recover a backup copy stored off-site, perhaps fitting given Xellerate itself is intended to ensure users have secure, continuous access to the resources they need.

"Over the past few weeks we have been able to piece together a lot of the work that was lost," says Christine Gillies, director of marketing. Many of the employees had laptops with them so technical product guides were safe, as well as information that was stored in e-mail systems on those laptops.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the company has vowed resiliency against the act of terrorism. Less than two weeks following the attack, Thor announced it had become fully operational.

The company had lots of help, though, getting to that point. Thanks to the generosity of vendors and business partners, Thor received significant discounts on subscriptions, expedited shipping on computers and software, and free telephones and e-mail accounts.

"It's great to know there's another side [of humanity] that's ready to help," says Young.