Planning for a potential workplace disaster stressed

February 12, 2010
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If a business owner is trying to head off a potential financial disaster brought on by the recession, the last thing he or she may want to tackle is to create a recovery plan for a natural disaster — like a tornado that destroys the workplace and all its valuable equipment and records.

Having such a plan, however, could mean the difference between doing business and not doing much of anything but hand-wringing and waiting.

“You have to have a disaster plan in place just to get back in business,” said John Karle, a principal and executive vice president at Crosby & Henry, an independent insurance agency that has offered commercial and consumer policies since 1858.

The first thing to do is to make a master list of the people and companies the business owner might need to contact after a disaster strikes. At a minimum, Karle said, employees, the firm’s attorney and insurance agent, vendors and suppliers should be on the list, and copies should be kept at the office and at home. The list can be shared with managers who can help make the necessary contacts if the need arises. Suppliers can include anyone from accountants to the firm that does the payroll and the company that fills the vending machines. Key customers also should be on the list.

Also included should be the names of local firms that are in the same industry and use the same business software. That might enable the business owner to hook up some computers to another firm’s network and be back in business, even if it’s only for the short term and at a limited operating scope.

“We own our own building. If we were hit with a fire or a tornado, we’d probably be out of this building literally for months, but we could move down the street,” said Karle.

“Sure, our insurance coverage is going to help us rebuild the building, and we’re going to get a lot of reimbursement of expenses from that for the additional cost of doing business, but we need to have a plan,” he added.

Once key contacts are listed and a temporary work site is in the recovery plan, then an owner’s attention should turn to insuring that valuable records are either copied or backed up, and to determining how lost equipment and furniture would be replaced.

Karle said owners need to know where they will buy computers and furniture, what kind they will buy and how much it will cost. He said they also need to know if current backup systems are functioning properly, and make sure they have access to all records stored offsite.

Another part of a recovery plan could be compiling a list of buildings that an owner could buy or lease if an office or shop is completely destroyed and he or she favors moving to another location rather than rebuilding, or if a longer-term temporary site may be needed during a lengthy reconstruction process. That part of a recovery plan has to be updated regularly.

“We can identify buildings that are available today, but by the time we may have a loss, it may be leased out to somebody else,” said Karle, who said that a plan should be reviewed annually.

“It’s a disaster plan and plans do change. And not everyone survives a disaster. If you have a business partner who is killed in the disaster, then life insurance and liability insurance come into play.”

Karle suggested that business owners should sit down and discuss a recovery plan with close associates for their input. And during the planning process, he said not to overlook the most obvious things.

“We rely so heavily on the electronics in our phone system. Having an old-fashioned phone that you can plug in when the electricity has gone down is good because the phone lines still continue to have power,” he said, as landlines have a backup power system that lasts for about 45 minutes.

“Have fire extinguishers up to date and flashlights on hand. These are things that immediately come to my mind that we’ve used when we’ve lost power — which, for us today, is a disaster because we can’t access our computers.”

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