Superstorm Sandy: Prelude to an Unprecedented Recovery

When dawn broke over New York City on October 30, 2012, Superstorm Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, had moved on. The water from two rivers and New York Harbor that had swept across lower Manhattan just a few hours earlier began to recede. But not so for the subways and buildings near the tip of the island where the water surged and settled. More than 15 million gallons of salt water filled the South Ferry subway station – from track level all the way up to the station's mezzanine – just a few steps from the street.


The story was very much the same for DTCC's offices at 55 Water Street, where millions of gallons of water flooded and filled the building's basement and sub-basements, left several feet of water in the building's ground-floor lobby and engulfed its securities vault located five stories below ground.

The flooding wreaked havoc, strewing more than 1.7 million water-logged certificates, as well as millions of other documents, throughout the vault. DTCC suddenly faced the monumental task of recovering, restoring and reconciling these documents. But the company couldn't begin to do even a preliminary assessment of the damage for nearly two weeks after the storm as seawater was pumped out of the vault.

Finally on Tuesday, November 13, 2012, teams consisting of two recovery experts from outside DTCC, one representative from DTCC operations, another from DTCC internal audit – plus a videographer – began the trek down five flights of stairs into a darkened, damp and cold DTCC vault to begin the largest vault recovery ever undertaken.

How DTCC Recovered and Reclaimed Certificates
Valued at More Than $1 Trillion in the Wake of a Superstorm

  • Stage 1: The Descent

    Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy roared ashore in late October 2012, flooding lower Manhattan and DTCC's headquarters, document recovery teams dressed in hazardous materials suits, gloves, respirators, goggles and miner lights descend 60 feet below street level into darkness and DTCC's vault to begin the process of collecting and restoring more than 1.7 million certificates strewn throughout the waterlogged compartment. Over the next several weeks, the teams, with DTCC operations and audit oversight – and a videographer to document the entire process – would carefully pack up more than 5,100 boxes of certificates.

  • Stage 2: The Big Freeze

    Once the boxes are sealed, logged and itemized, they are moved under DTCC internal security, internal audit and police surveillance to freezer trucks on-site at 55 Water Street. The freezing process stops the deterioration of the paper. Internal security and armed guards then escort the trucks to a secure facility in Texas where the frozen documents are placed into vacuum chambers and freeze-dried. This process converts the frozen water to water vapor, bypassing the intermediate thawing step. The boxes of sealed documents are then exposed to nuclear radiation to sterilize them.

  • Stage 3: The Cleaners

    Brink's armored trucks transport the dry and sanitized documents back to DTCC Jersey City where they are deposited in a special cleaning room. With internal audit and operations staff watching, the boxes are opened and recovery specialists begin to clean and vacuum each certificate and piece of paper – estimated at 10 million in total. This process begins in late December 2012 and continues through May 2013.

  • Stage 4: The Recovery

    The clean documents are sent to the new vault where DTCC staff begins the reconciliation process. Matching documents against the complete vault inventory recorded just prior to the hurricane, staff tag and check each certificate, sort accompanying documents, staple them to the appropriate certificate and file them within the vault. After six months of 10-hour shifts six days a week, DTCC reports that 99.9% of certificates have been recovered and restored and completes what is believed to be the largest vault recovery ever undertaken. The company continues its recovery efforts into 2014 for the remaining certificates, replacing those that were destroyed or damaged beyond repair and completes a full vault certificate audit to ensure accuracy and proper filing in the recovery exercise.