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Extreme disaster planning pays off

Extreme disaster planning pays off

Hurricane Sandy drove home just how important it is for businesses in New York to put plans in place to protect their operations from big storms. Unfortunately, many companies across the country fall short on this front. A 2012 study by Travelers Insurance found that 48% of businesses did not have a written continuity plan or disaster recovery document.”

It can be hard to find time for such efforts, but experts say they can more than pay for themselves. A well-thought-out plan can prevent a costly disruption that, in some cases, may lead to lost customers—and business failure.

“If it extends to a point where clients cannot do business, they will go somewhere else. That’s what we saw with Hurricane Sandy,” said Steve Rubin, president of WorkITSafe, an IT firm in Brooklyn that works with many small and medium-sized firms.”

It almost goes without saying that every business should meet with a good broker to make sure it has the right kinds of insurance. Here are some other tips from entrepreneurs and experts on how to protect your business—before the next big storm hits.

1. Do a risk assessment.
Each business has its own major vulnerabilities, whether it’s proximity to a body of water that may cause flooding or an older roof that could be damaged by heavy snow.

Taking stock when you’re not in the midst of a crisis will help you devise the best strategy for preventing damage and disruption. “We see quite a bit of evidence that folks are not spending enough time thinking about their business continuity plans,” said Jim Gustin, senior property specialist in the risk control department at Travelers Insurance, which has an office in New York.

2. Set priorities.
The costs for a business continuity plan can easily spiral out of control if you try to address every possible worst-case scenario. To focus your efforts, ask yourself, “What functions or processes of the business are critical to its survival?” suggested Mr. Gustin.

Making sure you can take phone calls is crucial at most businesses. When phone service was disrupted by the superstorm, the law offices of Aaron I. Katsman, a 45-person firm in Valley Stream, L.I., that works with clients around the country including banks and lenders in Manhattan, forwarded calls to a secondary site where phones were working. Clients had no trouble reaching the firm. “They were able to communicate with our office the entire week without noticing any interruption whatsoever,” said Mr. Katsman.

3. Figure out how you’ll get work done.
Finding an alternative work site after a big storm can be hard, especially if you have limited phone and Internet access, so scout around early. Make sure that your team knows how you’ll tell them about a temporary site if your usual communication systems go down.

After securing temporary space at Quest Workspaces in Manhattan, Foursquare used social media to tell its team, said Laura Kozelouzek, CEO and founder of Quest Workspaces. “By the next morning, all of their people knew where to go to get work done,” Ms. Kozelouzek said.

Plan for the possibility that employees won’t be able to get around—or enter your building. Long before Hurricane Sandy, Mr. Katsman’s firm hired Mr. Rubin to set up a virtualized server that would allow all employees to access their documents securely from their home computers if necessary. “We can’t have a situation where we have significant work outages,” Mr. Katsman said.

His team used that system, which is built around Microsoft Windows Server 2012 to log on the day after the storm hit and the other four days their building was closed. The firm’s files are backed up offsite every five minutes, so workers had all of the documents they needed, he said.

4.Toot your horn.
Once you’ve got a smart continuity plan in place, let customers and prospects know. “It gives them a high level of security and service they wouldn’t normally have with an office of our size,” said Mr. Katsman. “It’s a selling point with potential clients.”

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