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L.A. SHAKEN, BUT NOT BOWED TELECOMMUTING, FAXES FIGHT EFFECTS OF QUAKE

By Published on .

The deadly shaking of last week's earthquake in southern California lasted about 40 seconds.

But the temblor's effects on business will be felt for months, if not permanently.

As a shell-shocked population, wracked by a seemingly perpetual string of aftershocks, straggled back to work last week, it became apparent that returning to normal did not mean business as usual.

The magnitude 6.6 initial jolt, centered in the bedroom community of Northridge, about 25 miles north-northwest of downtown Los Angeles, struck at 4:31 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 17. In its wake it left at least 50 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.

The aftershocks, some violent enough to be considered moderate quakes themselves, began receding by the end of the week. That was the good news. The bad news emerged as one traditional Los Angeles nightmare turned even uglier: commuting. Damage to several major arteries into the city extended what were already long commutes, and businesses responded to the hardships such travel represents to employees.

Clearly, Chiat/Day's Jan. 3 high-tech plunge into what has been dubbed "the virtual agency" wasn't designed as an earthquake contingency plan. But the new structure, in which computer and telephone systems help employees do their jobs without designated42

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offices, paid off during the seismic emergency.

The communications systems "paid a dividend" by allowing the agency to continue operating throughout last week, said Bob Kuperman, president-ceo of Chiat's Venice, Calif., office.

The virtual agency is about "turning the office into a resource instead of a storage bin," said agency Chairman Jay Chiat. While staffers are required to come into the office as needed, on any given day they may end up working at home.

That made it difficult, Mr. Kuperman admitted, to determine exactly how many employees actually showed up for work when Chiat's headquarters, with its signature binocular facade, officially reopened on Wednesday.

Not all solutions were as revolutionary. Others chose to make better use of resources already at their fingertips, like fax machines, telecommuting technologies and car pooling.

Almost every radio and TV traffic report encouraged commuters to "rideshare," a term popularized by a $12.9 million, 18-month ad campaign from the California Department of Transportation that ended Dec. 31. The second phase of the campaign from Kresser/Craig, Santa Monica, encouraging commuters to car pool just one day a week, returned to the air days before the quake.

The agency immediately redubbed the spots to encourage car pooling every day. A broader campaign encouraging use of all alternate travel modes is planned.

Telecommuting advocates saw in the quake a golden opportunity to persuade companies that more employees should work from home.

Pacific Bell planned a major radio and print campaign to encourage telecommuting and set up a special loan fund to outfit home offices.

Los Angeles' City Film Permit Office found a simple way to deal with the new difficulties of doing business: fax. The office is speeding up implementation of a plan to let producers of commercials, TV programs and films seek permits without traveling to the office in Hollywood.

Meanwhile, convention and tourism executives scrambled to keep travelers from scratching Los Angeles from their itineraries.

On the day of the quake, the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau faxed 25,000 bulletins to travel agents nationwide with status reports on hotels, attractions and transportation.

"I carry a crisis plan in my briefcase with all the phone numbers of newswire services, so I was able to do that remote," said Shelby Allen, convention bureau VP-marketing, who formerly worked with the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau during that city's October 1989 earthquake.

At the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, the quake jarred awake Andy Berlin, chairman of Berlin, Wright & Cameron, New York, who was working on a new campaign for Volkswagen U.S.

Mr. Berlin grabbed his robe, a cellular phone and headed downstairs. He found himself rubbing shoulders, or sleepwear, with celebrities like Ted Turner and Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Robert Duval, Penn Gillette, Donald Sutherland and John Cleese; a contingent from Leo Burnett Co., in town from Chicago to work on a Miller Lite campaign; and associates from Berlin Wright.

Retired CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite, another Four Seasons guest, headed over to the nearby CBS Television City studios to do an on-the-scene broadcast. He was in town to host a splashy publicity event for Oracle Corp., a software company planning to unveil technology to help make possible the information superhighway. But amid the post-quake chaos, Oracle postponed its superhighway party.

Los Angeles' sizable commercial production was back in action almost as soon as the ground stopped rumbling.

Director Chris Nolan of Nolan/La Monte, a Venice, Calif., production company, went ahead with a shoot at 6:30 a.m. Monday-just 2 hours after the quake-with Japanese client Yoshinoya, a chain of fast-food restaurants, and Asatsu/ BBDO, Tokyo. There was pressure to get the job done since TV time had already been bought.

The sound stage had no power, so the crew shot with the aid of a generator, interrupted only by a late afternoon 5.1 aftershock.

Thousands of Los Angeles residents lost homes to the quake, which struck the region just months after fires destroyed hundreds of homes. Gerry Rubin, president of Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, was evacuated from his house in that oceanside city.

Among the other instantly homeless was Randel McDowell, western sales director at Advertising Age. The 50-year-old ranch style house he rents in Sherman Oaks, just eight miles from the quake's epicenter, "took it bad." The foundation and several walls cracked; the chimney collapsed.

"All the cheap stuff survived," he said. "The expensive stuff died."

The quakes and earlier fires, riots, drought and a slumping economy have turned the California dream into a nightmare for many in Los Angeles. Yet some things couldn't be destroyed by the earthquake. Organizers of the City of Los Angeles Marathon said they received hundreds of calls last week from the 19,000 runners worldwide inquiring about the status of the race, set for March 6.

"The race will proceed as planned," said Bill Burke, president and director of the event. "Perhaps most importantly, we are going ahead with the painting of the largest freeway mural in the world on the Santa Monica Freeway, only 200 yards from where the freeway collapsed."

"The mural's futuristic look of the city of Los Angeles," Mr. Burke said, "indicates our positive belief that this city will not only survive but prosper."M

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