When floodwaters poured into Grand Forks, N.D., the first concern was safety. Not far behind, though, was how to keep the technological infrastructure of businesses running. To do otherwise would compound the disaster.

One of the city's banks lived out of a semi-tractor trailer for nearly two months.

It wasn't just any large truck. The SunGard truck was one of 13 scattered across the nation, designed to help companies keep going when weather and foul play would seem to decree otherwise. At New York City's World Trade Center, for instance, five companies declared disasters and called for trucks after the bombing in 1993.

A SunGard truck was on display during the Business to Business Expo at the Salt Palace last week.

The truck has hydraulically operated walls that allow it to become a very large room, complete with restrooms and a small kitchenette area. It can accommodate up to 50 people at a time. But that's not what makes it special, according to Denny Day, SunGard vice president.

The vehicle is equipped with its own complete, operate-around-the-clock power supply. And the company can provide the hardware to replace what a disaster took away, from computers to scanners and other items, regardless of operating system or personal preference.

Clients sign a contract, for a monthly fee, that outlines what the company would need in a disaster and exactly what SunGard will supply, including hardware and technical and network support.

Pop in backup data and you're back in business, Day said. They don't do data recovery, but rather offer the equipment to run existing data and add new.

Since it started in 1978, SunGard has focused not on the cleanup or rebuilding of downed buildings, but on what happens inside them. That has meant a huge investment in hardware and infrastructure: $35 million last quarter, in fact. The company can support 26 different data platforms and cut down recovery periods for a company from days or weeks to mere hours.

Clients range from a small bank in Ogden to the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, both enterprises that have to be back up in minutes to serve their own clients.

Larger operations can also go to one of the company's "hot sites" in Scottsdale, Ariz., or Philadelphia if they need more room to operate or more equipment. Clients also are encouraged to come in twice a year and load up back-up data, test the system and go through the entire restoration process so it's familiar and proven if disaster should strike.

They're not the only players in the field. Competitors include Comdisco and IBM, as well as some smaller operations. But Day said they're the first in the field and have amassed a lot of experience in some pretty sticky locations.

It's not a service that can be purchased — from SunGard, at least — during a disaster. The Philadelphia-based company, which covers all of North America, has 1,500 employees and boasts customers everywhere, including a good number in Utah, and serves people with whom it already has contracts. Day said he's careful not to overbook existing equipment, so in a massive disaster the company will be able to provide each client what it said it would.


E-mail: lois@desnews.com