US ATTACK: Tech firms help NY rebuild

When Mike Lackey sent an e-mail message Wednesday night to technology companies around the world asking them to donate any PCs, technical equipment, and expertise they could spare for New York City companies devastated by Tuesday's terrorist attack, he was unprepared for the response.

Within hours, his phone and e-mail inbox were swamped with hundreds of messages from willing firms offering office space, PCs, entire phone networks, or whatever companies affected by this week's terrorist attacks need to stay in business and recover.

"It has been a phenomenal outpouring of goodwill and generosity," says Lackey, who heads the Association for Information Technologies, a New York-based educational trade group for area technology firms. So far AIT has had 2000 offers of help.

Crushed by the goodwill response, Lackey has linked up with the trade publication Computerworld, a PC World sibling publication, to coordinate assistance in the business community. The grassroots effort is being called simply Volunteer IT, and is a clearinghouse where companies can offer and seek services.

Homeless businesses

The destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers felled nearly 400 business offices . That doesn't take into account the scores of soot- and debris-covered offices nearby, or businesses in the Lower West Side of Manhattan that have have been condemned or left without water, electricity, and phone service.

"There are entire companies that have been blown up. If they can't bounce back quickly they could be out of business in a matter of weeks," Lackey says.

But technical assistance is pouring in. The Volunteer IT Web site is busy, and help continues to come from other New York businesses and from technology companies around the world. Microsoft has pledged US$5 million in humanitarian aid along with $5 million in technical services. Intel has given $1 million to the Red Cross. Donations of money and technology have come from Lucent, Sprint, and the German firm Allianz, which is donating $1 million. Columbia University says it will donate 100 PCs to companies that need them.

In the wake of the attack, the Red Cross has declared a dire need for technical equipment and services. Along with pints of blood, the Red Cross has been overwhelmed with "over a thousand offers of assistance and equipment in less than twenty-four hours," according to Joseph Leo, Red Cross assistant director, business applications, IT.

Sharing space

Former World Trade Center tenant Landmark Education, a training and consulting firm, says it could use a hand. Twenty-four of its employees worked on the 15th floor of One World Trade Center. All escaped without injury, but now the company faces the challenge of keeping the wheels of business turning.

"We are looking for space. We have no place to go. We don't know what we are going to do," says Mark Kamin, a Landmark Education executive.

Insurance will pick up relocation costs, and long-term plans are being determined. But in the interim, Landmark Education needs immediate help, Kamin says.

"We used to have 100 phone lines in our offices. Now we've only got one that we're operating out of one of our customers' offices," Kamin says. "We are way behind the eight ball, but we're doing okay."

Because of the dire need for temporary office space, the Real Estate Board of New York has created a free "space bank." It is intended to help businesses that must relocate from downtown find space.

The Silicon Alley Daily trade journal is offering to share its own New York City offices with local companies. It heard from about a dozen companies seeking space, including ClearForest, a knowledge management company formerly located on the 47th floor of OneWorld Trade Center. All 15 ClearForest employees escaped alive, but they need a new business home.

Victims also help

All told, downtown Manhattan has about 10 percent less office space with the loss of the World Trade Center. The towers contained 10.4 million square feet of offices. Informal estimates put the amount of office space destroyed or rendered at least temporarily useless (in the case of surrounding offices) at 5 million square feet.

Companies large and small are chipping in. The 12-person public relations firm Blinn PR is donating three fully equipped offices located nearby in Chelsea, about one mile from the World Trade Center.

"This is my small way of helping people out," says Stephen Blinn, founder.

Technology outsourcing firm Enherent had 13 employees who worked with clients at the World Trade Center. All escaped safely. It decided the best outsourcing it could do now is to offer an extra 13,000 square feet of free office space to displaced companies at its other offices, located about two hours outside of the city in a Hartford, Connecticut suburb.

"We are just doing the best we can to mitigate the damage against these companies," says Dan Woodward, Enherent president and chief executive officer. "We just want to do the right thing. I think we all have to stand against terrorism any way we can."

Moving on

Relief efforts are appreciated even by those companies that don't immediately need it. Fireman's Fund, a leading property casualty insurer, didn't suffer any human losses but its offices were wiped out.

"I think this is a noble expression of an entire industry," John Kozero, a Fireman's Fund spokesperson.

"Our first objective was to make sure all our employees were safe. The second is getting back to work by helping our customers. And then we need to find new offices," Kozero says.

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Tom Spring

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