When Disaster Strikes

A Little Advance Planning Can Save a World of Trouble

I will never forget that gut-wrenching Monday morning, back in the mid-1970s, when I drove into my company’s parking lot and saw the burned-out shell of a building.

That was all that was left.

The fire had been so hot that the typewriters had melted onto the desks. All of our books and records were scattered in shards.

No one had warned me about what had happened the night before, and as the financial department employees congregated,  no one could even comprehend what it would take to reconstruct information on more than  2,000 customers.

What it took was almost two years of working six days a week, sifting through ashes and bits of paper  while working out of a warehouse facility. It was years before the stench of the ashes and soot came out of our clothes.

We were not prepared and it was a nightmare. It was a nightmare that you can avoid.

Fortunately, most businesses today are fully computerized.  However, many are not paperless.  To be honest, I went kicking and screaming into the paperless era,  and still cannot say that I am 100% paper-free. But I can assure you that all of my most important documents are now in electronic format or in a safe deposit box.  And yours need to be too.

You need to save your documents onto your hard drive, or on a server, and back up your information on a regular basis.  That back up information then needs to be kept off site so that it can be accessed and reconstructed easily at another location.

Scan your most important documents into an electronic format which you can then store on a flash drive or a CD.

There are online services that will automatically back up all of your computer files and store them at one or more offsite locations. They will also encrypt those sensitive documents to guard against disclosure or theft.

You have to do whatever it takes to keep your documents secure and available to you should a disaster strike.

I know of some clients who have videotaped every room of their offices or their warehouses, and keep that tape off-site to ensure a recording of all of their assets. This will aid you with any insurance claims as well as with any casualty losses that you might deduct with the Internal Revenue Service.

Be sure that your company has a disaster plan. Some things you need to consider: how to notify all members of the firm; where everyone will meet to keep the business going; where to redirect the phone calls and who will answer them; who is in charge of monitoring emails. In fact, you need a clear plan of responsibilities for maintaining all aspects of the business to keep it functioning.

This year has seen an unbelievable number and variety of disasters across the country, including flooding, crippling snowstorms, wildfires, hurricanes and tornadoes.

It would make sense to have a means of receiving and monitoring severe weather conditions.  I have a NOAA Weather Radio in my office.

I always err on the side of caution, and if I believe that my employees could be endangered, I will release them early or allow them to work from home.  A few hours of lost production or sales  are meaningless compared to the value of your people and their morale. Too many employers don’t realize that.

You never know when disaster could strike your business. Be prepared, have a plan and be ready so that if it strikes you will be back in business in short order, with minimal loss of activity.

I assure you that sifting through piles of ashes is not fun.

 

About the author

Sandra Napoleon-Hudson

Sandra Napoleon-Hudson is the managing member of Sandra Napoleon-Hudson CPA LLC, based in Atlanta. Her expertise includes multi-state taxation for corporations, partnerships and individuals, business consulting, sports and entertainment taxation and IRS representation. As a former partner of a New York firm, she appeared frequently on television and in print media.

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