In the Eye of the Storm: New Jersey CPA Gets Ready for Hurricane Sandy

[Update: Since the below article was posted at about 11am ET on Monday, I've regained contact with Ron Zarin. He noted that aside from power outages and the loss of one computer, his office was otherwise unharmed, and they will be open again on Thursday.]

Accountants across most of the country are getting back to a typical Monday near the end of the month, and are mostly focused on closing client accounting periods and sales tax reporting. Ron Zarin, however, has something a bit more urgent on his mind: Hurricane Sandy.

A Certified Public Accountant, Zarin’s home and practice, www.Zarincpa.com, are in Pennsville, New Jersey, which as of the latest updates is the direct target of the brewing “megastorm” that meteorologists predict will be combining with a cold front and a low pressure system to cause significant problems on the Northeast coast, from Virginia to Maine.

Speaking with Zarin at 11am EDT on Monday, he said that he and his staff made the decision to close up shop late last week. “Our office, as well as just about everything in the area, is closed,” he said. Pennsville is located on the southwest tip of New Jersey, and is a peninsula surrounded by Delaware Bay and the Salem river. One of the greatest forecast threats is of a significant tidal surge that might bring water levels up to 8-10 feet above high tide levels.

“We made the decision on Friday that we would close for at least a few days this week. Fortunately, we had a lot of advance notice thanks to the National Weather Service and other professionals. We’ve been watching since last week, and the predictions have been very accurate. Unfortunately, we’re right in the middle of the bullseye.”

Since the area is low-lying and surrounded by nearby waters, the firm took the impending threat seriously. The accounting firm has been using a paperless system for several years, and they’ve secured the few remaining paper-based documents that are still necessary, to prevent them from being blown out in case of broken windows or roof failure.

Zarin also noted that the firm uses an online data backup system. “The program automatically performs backup and sends me an email reminder, but with the storm coming and having several days to prepare, I’ve gone online to double check and make sure that all of the backups are working right. I’ve also tested the file restore process, in case we do have to replace computers or other files.”

Without an online data backup system, his firm’s files might be completely destroyed if they were stored on a network server or on desktop PCs, particularly in case of flooding or the other potential threats that a hurricane can bring. “The physical things are replaceable. Computers, monitors, laptops, printers, etcetera, and they are insured. It’s the client data that’s most important to protect.”

Zarin says he’s taken every action he can think of to make sure the firm is ready to deal with any potential outcome, including spending some time at the end of last week on month-end client work that they would have been doing this week. “We’re certainly going to have flooded roads that become impassable, and we expect power to go out soon.”

He let the firm’s staff know that there are things more important to worry about than work. “Their safety and their families are the most important thing, and there’s no reason for them to even think about work for now. Just focus on family.”

As for Zarin and his family, they’ll be riding out the storm from their home, and they are prepared to go up to a week without power, if necessary. They’ve stocked up on provisions and have a generator.

“New Jersey has been in state of emergency since yesterday. It’s scary, since we typically don’t have storms of this magnitude in this part of the country. This is a big one, but we’re really lucky to have had a lot of advance notice.”

The storm is predicted to impact an area of the country with as many as 60 million people, and it's affects have already been widespread. Many schools, businesses and government offices across the region are closed, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has postponed its Digital CPA Conference until December 5-7, many flights have been cancelled, and disaster recovery teams in all of the states are preparing to assist those in need.

(For background on Ron Zarin and his practice, please see the profile from earlier this year: www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/10726205.)

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