March 15. 2013 10:55AM

Emergency plan preserved data as fire destroyed Burlington plant

By Molly Newman

As the heat of a fire started raising the temperatures on the computer systems at the Echo Lake Foods plant in Burlington on Jan. 30, technicians at Xenitel, a Waukesha information technology (IT) service company, took quick action to preserve the plant's data.

The Elkin Co., the parent company of Echo Lake Foods, had hired Xenitel to create a disaster preparation plan that included moving the plant's data to "the cloud," a virtual online platform.

"Our on-site monitors started to indicate a major rise in heat," said Brian Quandt, Xenitel IT director. "We knew something had gone terribly wrong, so we made some calls and remotely started an orderly shutdown of all IT systems."

While the fire destroyed most of the plant and all of its computer equipment, the Echo Lake Foods data was preserved, and that preparation is enabling the company to continue operating, even though it will take time to rebuild its Burlington facility.

Lee Fischer, chief financial officer of The Elkin Co. in Waukesha, advised business owners to consider preparing for an IT disaster.

"When you review business continuity from a systems perspective, you have to ask, 'What good is a back up of the data if you have nowhere to put that data?' Fischer said. "It has to be a whole plan, with many options and cost models to consider."

When the fire started, Xenitel was able to quickly take action using the plan Echo Lake had in place, Fischer said.

Xenitel helped the The Elkin Co. company establish a vaulting service, which backed up enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and data to off-site servers each night. That way, the fire only destroyed the physical IT systems, but the data could be salvaged.

The Elkin Co. already had its messaging and email systems hosted through the cloud, so they were not impacted by the fire. Employees could keep in contact with customers, suppliers and each other throughout the disaster.

Xenitel used its virtual servers in the cloud to restore Echo Lake's servers at satellite locations.

Freestanding structures that were not impacted by the fire were converted into the temporary headquarters and some employees offered basements for satellite operations. Using a virtual private network and standard home internet, Echo Lake was able to securely provide access to the temporary locations.

In this way, the company was able to quickly restore critical processes such as accounting, human resources and customer service. Payroll functions could be restored so employees were paid that week.

As it began to rebuild, the company was able to get its warehousing and shipping operations up and running quickly at its Yorkville and Owensboro, Ky. facilities.

"Looking at these (disaster recovery) plans on paper, it's easy to have doubts in the back of your mind" said Lou Morelli, director of Emerald ERP, Echo's main warehousing and supply chain software. "Even with the complexity of this disaster, the Xenitel team executed their plan flawlessly getting our systems back online in no time."

"We had no idea what to expect," said Jerry Warntjes, general manager of Echo Lake Foods. "Luckily, our IT partner had all the details figured out."

The plans for rebuilding the rest of the Burlington facility are in progress.

Founded in 1941, Echo Lake makes precooked and frozen egg products, waffles, pancakes and other breakfast items. The company has about 800 employees and $150 million in annual sales.

Some displaced Burlington employees transitioned to the Yorkville plant and others have received assistance from the Racine County Workforce Development Center.

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Reggie Newson announced two Special Response federal grants of $25,000 each to assist more than 400 workers displaced by business closings in Burlington and Pleasant Prairie.

"We are working closely with the our regional partner, the Southeastern Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, to help these workers find new jobs," Newson said. "With this grant, the board can initiate services, assisting these workers as they transition to new employment."

Approximately 300 workers were displaced following the fire at Echo Lake Foods in Burlington. The DWD joined the Racine County Workforce Development Center in providing rapid response services and holding a job fair.

Molly Newman is a reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee.