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Preparation: Key to a Swift Recovery

Gerry Printz

[This is part of a special
Disaster Planning section
from the November 2006 issue.]

the unexpected. That’s the lesson businesses and insurers alike should take
away from the devastation wrought by Katrina and Rita, which disrupted 125,000
small and midsize businesses, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

That’s also the lesson many small businesses should take away, too. According
to the Red Cross, 40 percent of small businesses are shuttered due to floods,
tornadoes and earthquakes. Indeed, disaster can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere.
And all too often, that’s when a failure to plan becomes painfully evident:
Businesses find they have no access to computers, crucial data and contact information,
furniture, inventories, or even bank accounts.

Unfortunately, this scenario plays out day and again, costing companies and
insurers millions annually in lost time, data, sales and property. That’s
the bad news. The good news is that the lack of business continuity planning
is now an easy problem to solve.

Just as it has made shopping, research, and social networking infinitely easier,
the Internet is now a resource for businesses to centrally locate everything
needed in the event of a disaster. And it allows this information to be easily
accessed, updated, and (most important) recovered, using any computer with an
Internet connection. This means businesses can quickly move from “bad
news” to “business as usual” should disaster strike.

While planning — even on the Internet — strikes many as a headache-inducing
chore, the cold truth is that without advance planning, recovery becomes a far
more costly effort. Indeed, in many cases, it becomes too costly, bankrupting
the afflicted business. Accounting professionals can get a jump-start on their
preparation efforts by targeting five components that should be a part of every
disaster plan.

Know Your Knowledge
People do things by rote. They come in to work, they know what they have to
do, and they do it. But these processes are rarely documented. Therefore, when
someone quits or is otherwise unavailable, a knowledge gap puts the business
at risk.This is especially true with small businesses, where only one person
might know how the office operates. This is why businesses must document every
crucial process, such as how new clients are entered into a system, how people
are greeted in a waiting room, how voicemail works, how the company manages
invoices and payroll, and so on. After these processes are documented as a text,
audio or video file, they should be stored in an offsite, secure location where
they can be accessed quickly and easily in the event of trouble. Obviously,
this speeds a company’s ability to quickly resurrect business processes,
even with new employees, after disaster hits.

Keep Cash Flowing
It can require days, weeks, months or even years (consider Katrina) before business
offices in an affected area become accessible again. But what about employees
and vendors who need to be paid in the interim? It’s crucial to have an
expense plan in place so that deposits can be made, checks cut or payments stopped,
just as if it were business as usual. Companies need ready access to bank account
numbers, direct deposit information and contacts. They also need access to records
such as employee Social Security numbers and payroll data, vendor invoices,
and so on.

As with core process documentation, all of this should be stored securely
off-site, and, ideally, available online.It’s also important to establish
a rapport with bank officials and become a “priority customer.”
That way, when the business contacts the bank, there’s an established
relationship to assist with extraordinary requests (such as cutting the same
checks as the prior month, or canceling entire ranges of check numbers).

Keep Phones Ringing
The ability to transfer a non-working phone line to another number is essential.
Otherwise, callers will be greeted with nothing more than dead air, and they
may assume that the business went under or perceive that customer service is
unreliable. Most telephone service plans include a call-forwarding feature that
doesn’t require access to the original phone line, and can reroute calls
to any number worldwide. Make certain your phone system supports this feature
and that instructions for implementing it (including passwords) are documented
and (you guessed it!) stored securely off-site, in a readily accessible manner.

Shoot the Moon
It’s much easier to photograph office equipment and inventory than to
write detailed descriptions, serial numbers, and other unique features for hundreds
of items. In fact, most insurance companies recommend creating a photo or video
inventory to speed claim processing. That’s because photos and videos
make it easy to provide claims adjusters with hard evidence of anything damaged
or otherwise lost. (Many digital cameras can even capture crystal-clear copies
of receipts and other paperwork, as well.) Shoot photos of the building exterior
and interior, all offices and facilities, furnishings, artwork, books and manuals,
storage closets, file cabinets, vehicles, and equipment.

ake certain to take photos of any model and serial numbers from your equipment,
as well. Don’t do it just once. Do it regularly, to keep the image database
current. With each update, move the photos or videos to a secure, off-site location.
Digital imaging is best because thousands of photos or hours of video can fit
on a single DVD or CD, or as digital files in an online folder. For those who
prefer film, the prints can be stored in a box off-site, or scanned and uploaded.
Finally, a word of caution: Avoid uploading proprietary or confidential photos
onto free online storage or photo services. These services are not secure, even
if they offer password protection. Use a service that’s specifically designed
to securely house sensitive data.

Backup to Move Forward
Today, nearly all of a company’s operational information is tied to computers.
It’s often said that the computer is the business. So backup every computer
— all of them, every day, week and month. This includes servers, desktops,
laptops, and even PDAs. It’s a blatantly obvious step that, unfortunately,
most small businesses utterly ignore. Among those organizations that do perform
regular backups, many fail to move the backups off-site, so when the computers
are lost, so is the backed-up data.Many companies also forget to validate that
their backups can be restored. Perform a test restore every month, at least.
Further, know and document the type of hardware and software that works with
every backed-up file, and have access to those components in a handy, secure

Disaster planning and recovery is not a canned process. Proaction and reaction
varies depending on factors such as time of day, time of the month, level of
property damage, and severity. Certainly a Category 5 hurricane requires different
tactics than a chemical spill that keeps essential employees from getting to
work. But businesses that invest the time and energy into developing and supporting
a continuity plan will aptly weather any disaster with speed, resilience and


Gerry Printz is President and CEO of 20/20 Innovations (