Be Ready With a Disaster PlanLaura Stone
If the last year has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Just in Oklahoma, the past several months have been a wild ride when it comes to weather-related phenomena. Ice storms, snowstorms, late-season tornadoes – we’ve seen it all over the last six months. Plus, our regular tornado season and our roller-coaster spring weather is just around the corner.
Disasters aren’t limited to weather-related events, however. Fires, plumbing floods, even burglaries can happen at any time and can wreak havoc on a business’s daily operations. That’s why every firm should have a disaster preparedness plan (or business continuity plan). As the saying goes, better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
THE OBVIOUS PARTS
There are few obvious tips you probably expect, so we’ll get them out of the way first.
- Don’t only keep paper copies of documents, scan and save them digitally;
- Back up your data using secure, cloud-based systems;
- Test or check your back-up system(s) regularly to ensure it’s there when you need it most;
- Using a cloud-based practice management system can help keep you on track even in the event of the unexpected;
- Any security protocols for remote work should be ardently followed in the event of a disaster or unexpected outage;
- The Oklahoma Bar Association has a guide, Planning Ahead Guide: Attorney Transition Planning in the Event of Death or Incapacity (also accessible through MyOKBar), that may provide some helpful tips for business continuity in the event of something unexpected;
- The American Bar Association has online resources from their Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness, including presentations and guides.
The less obvious steps for a disaster plan include a lot of documentation. Some of this may be kept in secured cloud storage, but key members of your staff – like an office manager – may also need to keep a paper copy at home or downloaded on a laptop in the event of an internet outage.
Don’t assume you’ll have someone’s number your phone or you’ll be able to pull up their email when you need it, be prepared and include:
- Staff list with personal contact information;
- If you lease your office, note your landlord and/or property management company with contact information;
- Make a list of vendors and sales reps with the services each provides and their contact information;
- List all insurance policy numbers, your provider and their contact information;
- Do a little research and make a list of preferred contractors – plumber, electrician, general construction, etc. – so you aren’t trying to research while manage other details;
- A client list is likely accessible through your cloud-based practice management system, however you may also want to keep a concise list of client names with their contact information and – if your firm has more than one lawyer – which lawyer(s) they work with.
Furniture, fixtures and equipment (FFE) should be listed, but if you have an office package policy you can use that list to help get started. At minimum, your list should include:
- All employee computers and company-issued electronics (including make, model, purchase date, etc.);
- Any communal electronics like copiers (and note the company and/or rep if they’re leased);
- Each office and room’s furnishing;
- Any artwork and other decor or accessories of value;
- Software with a list of admins and/or license keys (and note the company and/or rep you purchased from, if applicable).
Protocols and Procedures
You should have policies, protocols and procedures already documented in writing, so adding them to your plan should be easy. You’ll want to include special circumstance documentation like remote work policies as well as everyday documentation like billing procedures, cybersecurity protocols and staff handbooks.
One document you likely don’t have is a list of priorities in the event of a disaster. This may seem silly – obviously your first call will be to the fire department if your building is on fire – but beyond that, making a checklist of tasks will help ensure you don’t forget something and you don’t waste time or energy trying to decide what to do next. Think through a few scenarios and just make a list of all the people you need to contact and tasks that needs to be done. This is similar to the engineering practice called “failure mode effects analysis” (FMEA). Basically, it’s a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a product or a manufacturing process, then analyzing the consequences and outcome. You don’t need a separate plan for every scenario, but you can use your list of possible events as a way to make sure you cover all tasks – like a tornado limiting building access isn’t much different than a snowstorm limiting road access, so you’ll likely have a similar task list for both.
As unpleasant as it may sound to dream up potential problems, as many who’ve dealt with unexpected business interruptions can attest, it’s much easier to think through possibilities when they’re hypothetical than when they’re actually happening.
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
Of course, we hope no one has to go through the headache and heartache of a disaster. No one likes dwelling on what-ifs, but it’s better to plan ahead than wish you had. Give yourself peace of mind knowing you’re ready for anything and, as always, contact us if we can help.