Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

Disaster Recovery

Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

Disasters can take many forms for an organization. They might include a compromised computer, a power outage, severe weather, an active shooter situation, a bombing, or a virus.  Some of these situations are not as severe as others, but all need a plan to protect employees, clients, business partners, data, and files.

An Organization Needs a Plan Which:

Identifies levels of disasters and responses
Identifies systems, tasks and processes that are critical to the operation of the company
Identifies personnel responsible for business recovery activities
Identifies alternate operations and processing locations
Identifies the resources required to continue to effectively function, such as:
Vital Records
Office Furniture and Equipment
Data Processing Hardware and Software
Business Partners

The basic objectives of a disaster recovery plan should be:

To protect personnel, assets and informational resources from further injury or damage
To minimize economic losses resulting from interruptions of business activities
To provide a plan of action to facilitate an orderly recovery of business operations

Disaster Definitions

Level 1 disasters are considered a loss of power or other business sustaining services for an expected period up to 48 hours. Damage is not large scale. It may consist of minor damage to the building, lack of access due to weather or city infrastructure conditions or significant hardware/software damage.
Level 2 disasters are ones in which the outage is expected to last from two to five days. Damage is more serious than Level 1 and may mean heavier losses to equipment and documentation (files, reports, contracts) due to prolonged events (fire, flooding).
Level 3 disasters are ones in which the outage is anticipated to last in excess of five days. Damage could extend to total destruction of the building, requiring replacement and/or significant renovation of the facilities. If a health pandemic occurs, consider this a Level 3 disaster.
Level 4 disasters involve immediate danger of possible injury, such as an active shooter situation. These disasters should be addressed separately because they require active participation immediately from all personnel.

Disaster Recovery Team (DRT)

The Disaster Recovery Team (DRT) must include members who understand specific aspects of the business. This may include business partners, such as data providers, and technology. The team should meet regularly – perhaps quarterly. If members are not at the same location, connect via a conference site, such as Zoom. Becoming familiar with the use a product like Zoom or Go To Meeting will better prepare the team to respond to a disaster when everyone is not at the same location.
A meeting which includes vital members of the organization and the team should meet twice a year.

Emergency Phone Numbers

The first list should include only employee phone numbers. It is highly recommended that team members maintain this list of numbers either in a smart phone or in an address book that is kept off site. Identify the members of the team who will maintain this list. Send “test” messages occasionally to ensure the sender knows how to do it and the phone list is current.
Choose methods of communication. VoiceShot allows the team to populate a distribution list and send a voicemail or text message to everyone affected. A member of the marketing department should immediately post a message on the landing page of the firm’s website. It is recommended that members of the DRT should practice using VoiceShot or a similar communicator.
Normally, a member of the human resources department would be a good choice to maintain this list with one or two DRT members as secondary.
The second list should include main phone numbers of business partners. This list may be maintained electronically and in hard copy by each member of the DRT. There is no need to send test emails to these entities via VoiceShot or similar messaging software. This list should include:
Building Managements – for every location. Even if a disaster occurs in one location, all management companies should be notified.
IT Providers – this should include providers for the cloud, time & billing, document management, the website, outsourced help desks, and internet and phone providers.
Other Providers: include your offsite storage, accountants, and all insurance brokers.
Emergency Entities: This may vary depending on location, but the team should include: the American Red Cross, area hospitals for all locations, the FBI, FEMA,  local police departments, local fire departments, and poison control centers.
Staging Areas:  When a disaster strikes, it is critical to know where everyone is located.
Wardens: For this purpose, wardens should be appointed, each to be responsible for a specific list of employees. A warden should also be appointed to contact business partners. Contact can be accomplished via VoiceShot or another mass communication platform.
Locations: Identify staging areas for each office location. The employees at each location should determine the most prudent, safe places to meet in case of an emergency. Locations should be within easy walking distance, but far enough from the building to address a bomb threat. Specifically, identify these staging areas by location.
Groups: It makes sense not to designate more than 20 people to report to any one staging area. A warden will be responsible for matching people at the staging area to names on a list, so it’s important not to make any list too long. Things usually become chaotic during emergencies. Keep things simple, so that no one is easily forgotten.
Drills: At least twice a year, a drill should be implemented at each location. The times and frequency of running these drills may vary between offices, but drills are very important. When a disaster strikes, people will need to react automatically. For this reason, it is important for everyone to participate in these drills.
It may make sense to schedule the disaster drills when the building management does its fire drills. It is the responsibility of the wardens to account for the people on their lists, and to have their groups go to their staging areas. Expect people to complain, but if they don’t practice when it is not an emergency, they may not survive when it is.
Alternative Facilities:  Prepare beforehand. Alternative facilities should be designated to accommodate those disasters that will continue for some time. When seeking alternative facility options, it is critical to be able to properly access all technological applications and documents remotely. It is important to review all current leases to determine if rent has to be paid when the building is not accessible.
Working From Home may be the best option. This alternative has become quite common since the Coronavirus pandemic. However, many people do not know how to work from home for an extended period and how to effectively interact with colleagues and clients. For this reason, a work-from-home policy should be prepared, reviewed and endorsed by each employee. This policy should:
Include a “home office” provision. All employees are to be based in a primary office—this will accommodate an employer that may not want to abide by another states’ labor laws.
Ensure that employees have a safe work area in their homes. All communications must be secure, which requires that the internet in each home be secure.
Specify the party responsible for each expense and explain that all the company’s employment policies apply when working remotely. It would be worth the investment to hire an employment attorney to review the policy to ensure that the company is compliant with all labor laws.
Offer classes throughout the year that teach employees how to properly work and communicate effectively when working remotely. It is also possible to find courses dealing with these subjects that include certification credits (CLM, CLE, CPE). It may make sense to offer this accredited training at least once a year.
Sublease Space: When dealing with a disaster, if it becomes necessary to sublet space, it is important that the new space be secure, both from the disaster and technologically, and that all documents are stored in a confidential area. Be sure to properly evaluate the environment, however; it may make more sense for employees to work from home.
Shelter in Place:  Schools routinely instruct students how to behave when there is an active shooter in the vicinity. They practice what to do and what not to do.
Training: Many police departments offer free active shooter training to instruct employees what to do in such cases. Though much of this information may be found online, it can be of great advantage to have the police visit the location; they can determine the best action to be taken at each specific facility.
When a disaster recovery team attempts to present this type of training, fellow employees tend to dismiss it. But when the police present the training, their expertise in these matters is usually well-received.


Employees: This is an ongoing initiative. Education on how to deal with a disaster is critical throughout the year and on different levels.

Wardens: These people have to be prepared and willing to actively participate in training. It is recommended that wardens be trained on how to administer CPR. Training is available and emergency kits are easily affordable.

  •  Wardens have to routinely communicate with employees on his/her lists. This can be informally or hold break out group meetings after a company wide meeting.
  •  Routine training is critical. This is not “one and you’re done” training Training for all employees should occur at least annually. It is recommended that some of the presenters are brought in from outside the company. People pay more attention. Wardens should meet either prior or after such training sessions.
  •  Training should include how to use Zoom or Go To Meeting applications. People may need to use FaceTime on their cell phones. Most office phones today allow transfer incoming calls to cell phones.
  •  It may be prudent to require one department or a group of employees to work remotely once a month or quarter so various technologies can be used.

Communications: Communication is critical during a disaster. Contacting each client and business partner via phone or email may not be prudent depending on the situation.

Website: Websites have become widely used to research a company. It may make sense to post a press release on the company’s home page. It is important to keep the information current and eventually remove it.

Sample Press Release: FIRM NAME (specify offices if relevant) has sustained damage from (an explosion, a fire, a flood, etc). No employees were injured. The source of the (explosion, fire, flood, etc.) are under investigation.

  • For security reasons, we have been asked not to make further comment at this time.
  • Following a standard procedure, put in place some time ago, key employees have been temporarily moved to (address and telephone/fax numbers) and business will commence as usual (time and date). While we will endeavor to continue normal service, we ask our clients to bear with any minor delays in responding. Our aim is to run a seamless operation from our temporary post.
  • Further information will be announced as soon as possible.
  • Social Media: LinkedIn is being used more and more. The company probably has a page on this social media platform. It makes sense to update the company’s page with a brief reference and remember to update as necessary and eventually remove it.

Direct Communication to Clients: Depending on the size of an organization, it would make How best to communicate with clients and when.

  • First, get an active client list and provide it to various teams (depending on the size of the company). Each team should contact assigned clients via telephone.
  • The team should provide active clients an immediate update and progress report to reassure them that their business is continuing to be addressed.
  • Prepare an email that can be sent to inactive clients. to assure them that the company is available for them. Take this opportunity to let inactive clients know that they should not hesitate to reach out for new business or other resources that the company may provide.
  • If a disaster continues for an extended period, it is best to include narrative on all emails in signatures. Most companies include a confidentiality notice in signature lines. It would be prudent to add narrative that employees are working remotely or the company is closed and to indicate how best to communicate.

Potential Lawsuits: Document, document and document. Keep all correspondence. Confirm a conversation with an email. Expect employees, client and business partners to litigate. Check with workers compensation, employment practice, professional liability and commercial insurance brokers to ensure the company is properly covered in case of an emergency or disaster and that there are no exclusions.

Post Disaster: Hold a meeting after a disaster to discuss what occurred. What could have been done better and what worked. It may be a good time to review the company’s assets and supplies. What needs to be upgraded. The next article will address what to review after a disaster.

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