Fire! (Part 3)

June 2006 » Business
After a serious fire destroyed all of our office equipment, it took nearly seven months to start operating under some level of normalcy. There are many things that we’ve learned that are worth consideration.
Thomas True, P.E.

Ten truths about disaster recovery

After a serious fire destroyed all of our office equipment, it took nearly seven months to get back into our office space and start operating under some level of normalcy. Although our situation was unusual, there are many things that we've learned that are worthwhile for all business owners to consider.

  1. Make sure that you have "replacement cost" insurance on everything.
  2. All equipment and assets should be tagged and inventoried, documenting the make, model, and serial number. If you have a disaster, this inventory and the replacement cost insurance will expedite the equipment settlement, which will be critical.
  3. If you've wondered if business revenue loss insurance is worth it—it is. However, you won't receive any payments until long after the loss, and they will be about half of what you expect.
  4. Read and understand all of your insurance policies and how they work together. This task easily is overlooked with all that we have to do, but it is critical.
  5. Your insurance coverage must include a tenant or owner's policy as appropriate to your situation.
  6. Have a "critical papers" rider and make sure that it is sufficient to copy and replace all critical documents for your operation. Although my firm is not large, our reconstruction team hand copied and re-filed more than 30,000 documents that had been water damaged.
  7. Make sure that employee personal belonging coverage is appropriate for your company policies. If your coverage is insufficient, you will be faced with two options: telling your employees that they weren't covered for their losses, or covering their losses out of your settlement(s). We chose the latter.
  8. You must have a disaster recovery plan consistent with your ability to work under pressure. For example, consider that the worse you do under real pressure, the more details you must include in your plan.
  9. Storing off-site backup tapes are an obvious protective measure. But you must never, never stop looking for ways to add redundancy to your backup system(s).
  10. Make the move to paperless. It's not as intimidating as it sounds and can be a real time and money saver, even without a disaster.

Additional lessons

What else have I learned? Here are just a few more comments about our experience:

  • Don't think you can "take the money and run." This option never arose.
  • No matter how well you've planned for such an event, you'll still need more than a little bit of good luck.
  • During the seven months of reconstruction, I spent three to four hours per day deciphering insurance policies and coordinating the work. Now that we're back in our old office, this new found time has been consumed quickly by rebuilding both our staff and our backlog.
  • Old and new clients will be impressed that you've survived such a disaster, as well they should, but keeping your business on track will take every bit as much attention and effort. 
  • Despite the spike in morale during the move back, there likely will be staff turnover.
  • Many of us gained a fair amount of weight because of the increase in stress and takeout lunches. Losing that weight is just one more thing that we didn't need on our "to do" list!

Thomas True, P.E., is president of TRUE Engineering in Bedford, N.H. He can be contacted via e-mail at ttrue@trueesi.com.


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