Preparing for a Disaster - Articles

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Posted by: Barry Kolar on May 15, 2014


• Do you have a written disaster response plan?

• Do you have a written evacuation plan for your office personnel in the event of fire, tornado or flood?

• Has the evacuation plan been distributed to everyone in your office?

• Is a person or group of people in your firm assigned the responsibility for evacuating everyone from the office or building in the event of a disaster?

• Do your employees know where the emergency exits are in your office and building?

• Have you selected a location outside your building for your employees to regroup in the event your office or building has to be evacuated?

• Do you perform emergency evacuation drills on some periodic basis?

• If your office is in a multi-story building, have you coordinated your office evacuation plan and training with that of building management?

• Do you keep emergency exits clear?

• Have you requested the fire marshal to inspect your office for possible fire hazards?

• Is emergency equipment on site and located throughout the office (i.e., fire extinguishers, walkie-talkies) and do your employees know how to use them?

• In the event personnel cannot be evacuated, do you maintain emergency supplies on site (i.e., flashlights, radios, batteries, bandages and other first aid material, blankets, food and drinking water)?

• Have you provided your employees with training in emergency first aid procedures and CPR?

• Do all personnel have a list of emergency numbers?

• Have you prepared for the possibility of workplace violence? For more information, see the CLE titled “Surviving Active Shooter Situations” available online by the Tennessee Bar Association through TennBarU.

Business Continuity

If disaster struck and you could not access your office, could you continue business?


Do you have a written procedure for communicating with employees and clients in the event of a disaster?

• Do all of your employees have a current roster of firm employees, addresses and phone numbers that is kept at their home?

• Do you have a current list of clients, including contact names, addresses and phone numbers that is maintained off site?

• Do you have an "alert notification" telephone tree for all employees to assist with the dissemination of information in the event of disaster?


Do you keep copies of "paper" documents critical to the continuation of your business off site? Such information would include:

• Current client list, including contact names, addresses and phone numbers

• Current docket or master calendar, including names of opposing and co-counsel

            • Firm business records; i.e.

• lease agreements

• partnership/shareholder agreements

• inventory of physical assets

• insurance policies, including name and phone number of agents

• equipment leases, warranties and maintenance agreements, contact names and phone numbers of equipment vendors

• list of library services, including your “electronic library” provider, name and phone number of representatives

• Client documents; i.e.:

• Wills

• Agreements

• Settlements

• Corporate Documents

Note: paper records that are updated on a weekly or monthly basis should be taken off site at least monthly, preferably weekly.

Data Back-Up and Storage

Do you perform computer data back up & storage on some frequent basis?

1. Examples of data and documents to be backed-up and stored off site at least on a monthly basis are:

• firm accounting data; i.e., financial statement, general ledger, A/P and A/R ledgers, trust and retainer account transactions and history

• current billing information; i.e., unbilled time and disbursements, and accounts receivable information

• payroll data and information

• Examples of documents and data to be (ideally) backed up on a daily basis are:

• word processing documents

• firm accounting and client billing data

• spreadsheet and database information

• litigation support systems and data

• other practice management data

• Do you maintain the most recent copies of your operating and application software off site? Examples of such software include:

• network and computer software

• telephone switch software

• voicemail software

• copy and call accounting software

• firm accounting and client billing software

• payroll software

• spreadsheet and database software

• practice management software

• library software

Note: If your accounting and client billing is not automated and you do not maintain paper copies of your accounting and billing transactions off site, you will likely lose a significant amount of that data in the event of a disaster which will severely hamper your cash flow in the weeks and months following the disaster. If your firm accounting and client billing are automated but you are backing up your firm accounting and client billing data on a monthly basis, you will lose the current month’s business transactions and time and billing transactions in the event of a disaster. It is preferable that this information be automated and backed up daily.

Physical Plant, Equipment & Furnishings

Will you have access to office space, furnishings and equipment should your office be damaged?

Office Space

Is there alternative space from which your firm could operate on a temporary basis?

• Your home

• Other vacant commercial space (Get to know a commercial real estate agent and/or get yourself on a mailing list from the commercial real estate companies for notices of vacant space in your area.)

• Other law firms (Enter into a reciprocal agreement with another firm to use each other’s facilities in the event of disaster.)

• Branch office within commuting distance

Furnishings: Are you familiar with furniture rental companies or used furniture companies that will be able to provide you temporary furnishings or replacement furniture at a reasonable cost?

Office & Computer Equipment

Is your equipment adequately protected?

• Do you have a written procedure for shutting down critical computer equipment?

• Do you have a smoke detection device in or around your computer and telephone switch rooms?

• Do you have supplies on hand that will protect your equipment from water and debris; i.e., plastic dropsheets?

• Are you familiar with your office and computer equipment leases, warranties and maintenance agreements as to the obligations of your vendors to replace equipment damaged in a disaster? (Negotiate, if necessary, a provision in your equipment leases for equipment replacement in the event of disaster.)

Advice: Be a loyal customer to office equipment, computer equipment, software and supply vendors so that if disaster strikes, they will be loyal to you.


Do you carry adequate insurance to cover all types of disasters? Does your policy cover the following types of losses?

• Replacement costs of office space, and of your current inventory of office equipment, computer hardware and software, valuable papers, library, and office furnishings

• Loss of income and extra expense

• Business interruption due to disaster that hits you directly or that prohibits accessibility to your office building even though your office is not damaged

• Malpractice coverage for possible missed actions as a result of business disruption

• Crime insurance

• Fidelity bond

Note: Be sure your policy covers your specific office address (specific floor), rather than just the building address.

No amount of planning will adequately  prepare you for  the disasters we have seen in the past year; however, planning will go a long way in assuring the personal safety of your staff and the continuation of your business should disaster occur.