HARTFORD, CT—Middle managers at Coopers & Schmidt, a Hartford insurance claims adjustment firm, are busy gearing up this week for Operation Xerox-Fax, a covert, high-stakes faxing mission scheduled for Sept. 12.

The goal of the risky operation—which will involve an estimated three mid-level employees ranging from assistant account coordinator to regional sales supervisor—is the successful photocopying, faxing and confirmation of Coopers & Schmidt's July '97 benefits summary.

"This is an exciting, high-risk mission," said Tom Gerosa, an associate claims adjuster who has been with the firm for 14 years. "I pray no one is hurt."

Operation Xerox-Fax is set to begin at 10 a.m., when Coopers & Schmidt secretary Janice D'Alessio will make a photocopy of the benefits summary, which she will then put in company vice-president Ralph Gleick's mailbox. When her portion of the mission is complete, D'Alessio will remove the original document from the Xerox machine, walk across the office, and hand-deliver it to regional benefits co-supervisor Art Blaine, who will be awaiting the document in his cubicle.

Blaine is considered by many to be the key to the operation. Responsible for double-checking the benefits summary against the benefits file on his computer, he must then transport it safely to new accounts manager Terri Auletta at the fax machine, which lies more than 30 yards from Blaine's cubicle, past the supply closet, paper shredder and inspirational corporate poster that reads: "Success—If You Believe It, You Can Achieve It."

"There will be dangers, no doubt," said Blaine, promoted from assistant benefits supervisor to co-supervisor six years ago when Ted Stram died. "The area of the office I will cross is one of our most volatile—sales managers demonstrating golf swings, Federal Express packages lying on the floor, the list goes on. My wife is very concerned, but she knows this comes with the job. She knew it wouldn't be easy when she married me. She's strong, though."

Coopers & Schmidt, a Hartford-area insurance claims adjustment firm, has held several top-secret planning meetings to ensure that Operation Xerox-Fax succeeds.

Making matters more tense is the fact that the faxing can only occur between 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. If the fax is not sent during that window, the recipient, regional assistant benefits manager Gary Tremont, will in all likelihood be at lunch, meaning the fax will not be sent until as late as 2 p.m.

"I don't want to talk about that," Auletta said. "Failure is not an option."

Operation coordinator Paul McHue is confident his elite squad of middle managers is prepared for the mission.

"We have trained day and night for months," McHue said. "The photocopy machine's ink cartridge has been checked and re-checked. Missing staplers have been returned or replaced. Paper clips have been positioned at strategic points along the mission route. Fax numbers have been confirmed. Hallways have been cleared of empty boxes. Clearance has been given by office manager Nancy Luberda. We only get one shot at this."

For all the preparations, disaster almost struck during a routine test run Thursday when the Xerox machine unexpectedly ran out of paper.

"We were out of letter-size and had no choice but to go with bright pink legal-size paper," Auletta said. "Had that happened during the real thing, all would have been lost."

The man responsible for the empty paper tray, assistant claims adjuster Ed Haselbreit, was immediately fired.

"Ed was always too flashy," McHue said. "He was a hot dog, a loose cannon. We had to replace him with someone who can stick to a mission directive—Pat Cook from client services."

Operation Xerox-Fax, which was approved last Thursday in a hand-signed memo from Luberda, is the boldest fax-related maneuver undertaken at Coopers & Schmidt in nearly four years. In November 1993, a renegade team of seventh-floor actuaries and accountants faxed client Jim Reinhardt, a Hartford physician, a four-page spreadsheet analysis of his projected taxable earnings from holdings and investments for fiscal year 1994.

"Three of us went into the office that day," said accountant William Keating. "And only two came out." The third member, actuary Dan Yu, left the office shortly after lunch that day with a cold.

If Operation Xerox-Fax succeeds, all three team members can anticipate a well-deserved vacation. "Veteran's Day is coming up," Auletta said. "You'd better believe I'm going to make the most of that half-day off."