Lately, the weather has created havoc in many locations throughout the South.
In recent weeks, I have been in contact with colleagues via Email Lists in Florida,
Louisiana and Alabama, and there has been a lot of discussion on how to help
practitioners dig out from the terrible destruction that these hurricanes have
Although Maryland does not have weather as severe as in other parts of the
country, we can still get hit hard. Remember when Isabel flooded Pratt Street
in downtown Baltimore and closed the World Trade Center. And only a few years
ago, a tornado leveled many businesses (including many law offices) in La Plata
in Southern Maryland.
Most times when we think of disasters we think only of catastrophic events
and whether or not there were computer backups. However, a disaster can be
any event that prevents you from conducting business for an extended period
of time. And it encompasses many other tasks and issues beyond the computer
There are so many issues to be addressed when planning for a disaster that
it may be difficult to know where to begin. If we break down the process into
easy and manageable parts and tasks, we can begin to create a workable disaster
plan. Keep in mind that the plan you create will address worst-case scenarios.
The disaster plan must be in writing, and it must be specific. When
it is completed, it should be distributed and discussed with all employees.
Someone should also be given the task of reviewing it annually. Staff should
be given specific tasks of what to do in case of an emergency or disaster.
According to an article in the Association of Legal Administrators’
November/December 1998 issue of Legal Management, entitled “Plan
Ahead and Survive When Disaster Strikes”, the following should be considered
when assigning responsibilities for tasks: “personnel availability, employees’ talents
and knowledge and employees’ ability to act in time of duress and stress.
Any emergency plan needs to delineate clear-cut lines of authority and responsibility.” (A
link to this and other articles on this topic is available at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm)
I think that family members of partners and key personnel should also receive
a copy of the disaster plan and know what steps need to be taken. This is particularly
critical in the case of solo and small firms.
For the sake of this article, there are three types of disasters for which
we will begin to create a plan:
||Damage to your physical surroundings, such
as a fire, flood or even theft.
||An event which would cause a partner, associate
or other key employee (you will determine who is a key employee) to be
unable to work either temporarily or permanently.
||An event which would cause you to be
unable to work either temporarily or permanently.
Regardless of the type of disaster, quick access to certain types of accurate
information is essential. Listed below is a brief list of information which
you and others in your office should have at their fingertips. This information
should be updated regularly and copies should be kept at your home and the
homes of key employees should a problem occur (In solo and small firms, paralegals
and administrative staff should be considered key employees.)
||Name, address and Social Security numbers of
you and your partners
||Name, address, phone numbers (including cell
phones) and e-mail addresses of all employees
||Federal and State ID numbers
||Name, address and phone number of landlord,
building owner or maintenance company
||There are many other phone numbers that you
should also have immediately available, including building security, fire
department, police, ambulance, plumber, computer records recovery or salvage,
document recovery or salvage, insurance company, locksmith and utility
||Names, addresses and phone numbers of your
personal representative, attorney, accountant, physician and another attorney
designated to assist with your practice (If you have not designated another
attorney to assist your practice in case of emergency, this will be discussed
in detail in next month’s issue.)
||Location of your will and/or trust
||Professional corporation information (if applicable)
||Names, addresses, phone numbers, policy numbers
and contact persons for all insurance policies, including property, malpractice
liability, general liability, valuable paper, errors and omissions, health
insurance, life insurance, workers’ compensation and disability
||Location, box number and where to locate key(s)
to safe deposit box(es)
||List of contents of safe deposit boxes and
||List of all leased equipment, name, address
and phone numbers of lessors and expiration date
||Name, address, phone numbers, account numbers
and signatory information on all business financial accounts.
A worksheet to assist you in accumulating and storing this information is
available online at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm.
To have a copy mailed to you, call Pat Yevics at (410) 685-7878 or (800) 492-1964,
ext. 3039, or e-mail your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please leave your name, address and phone number and it will be mailed to you.
(Note: If you e-mail your request, it will be sent as an attachment via e-mail.)
Damage to Your Property
How quickly and accurately could you list everything in your office? If
your office was either destroyed by fire or flood or your office equipment
was stolen, one of the first steps you would have to take would be determining
the extent of your loss. If you cannot tell someone exactly what is in your
office and what needs to be replaced, then you need to have an accurate inventory.
Assign someone in your office the responsibility for taking a complete inventory
and a reasonable timetable for completion. This can take anywhere from one
week to one month, depending on the size of your office. Once you have made
this assignment, mark the date for completion on your calendar and review it
on or near that date. Make any changes that are necessary. The inventory should
include the following information:
||All computer hardware equipment, including
location, serial number, original price (if known), purchase date (if known)
and original vendor (if known)
||All software, including serial number, original
price (if known), purchase date (if known) and original vendor (if known)
||A list of all library contents and subscriptions
||All other office equipment, including fax machines,
photocopiers, dictation equipment and telephone equipment. Where possible,
include serial numbers, original prices, purchase dates and vendors.
This information should be updated each time a new piece of equipment is
added or discarded. If you have not done so, make certain that you begin to
keep information on purchase date, price and vendor. You should also have information
on all maintenance contracts for equipment in your office. Once completed,
this information should be kept off-site. Remember to update the off-site list
when you make any additions or deletions.
Other items for consideration:
||How soon can you replace computer equipment
that has been destroyed or stolen? How will you pay for the equipment until
an insurance settlement is made?
||Keep a list of computer vendors, furniture
vendors and telephone vendors in case you need to contact them quickly
for replacement equipment. If you cannot replace all of your equipment
immediately, have the numbers of some equipment-rental companies.
||Are your computers backed up daily, and are
the tapes taken off-site? (See
“Technology Talk”, page 15)
||Are you absolutely certain that you can restore
your data from your current backup tapes? Do you actually know how to restore
data from your tapes? If you have never restored data from a backup tape,
do you have someone you can call immediately to assist you? I recommend
that sometime this week you actually attempt to restore data from your
backup tapes (if you are able to restore the data, you are doing very well).
||Keep a copy of your address book and client
database in an off-site location. I have three copies of my entire address
book: one copy on my office computer, one copy on my Palm Pilot and another
copy on my computer at home. I update these daily without fail. It takes
only a few minutes. (Since my Palm Pilot also has my calendar, this is
also updated daily.)
You should also determine who will be responsible for contacting insurance
companies and vendors should your office be damaged. You also need to determine
what would need to be done if the damage prevented you from performing your
client work for any amount of time. How would you contact clients, opposing
counsel or the courts (if applicable)? Each person in the office (including
key administrative staff) should have at least two accurate calendars. One
of the calendars should always be off-site.
Do you have copy of your client list and could you access it quickly after
a disaster? If the answer is no, what do you need to do to make certain that
you have this information?
These are some of the most important issues which must be considered if your
office were damaged. In the next 30 days, begin to take steps to assemble this
information and create a simple plan of what is to be done in case of this
type of emergency.
Many of the case management programs can be downloaded to PDAs, which can
(and should) be updated daily. This is just another way to have your information
at an off-site location.
Do you know what to do in case there is a flood? Do you have the name of
a company that handles freeze-drying of paper documents? There is a list on
the MSBA website.
You should also know the contact information for certain government agencies,
such as the Maryland Emergency Management Administration and the Federal Emergency
Checklists for assisting you in determining the steps that need to be taken
following a disaster are available on line at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm.
To have this information mailed to you, call Pat Yevics at (410) 685-7878 or
(800) 492-1964, ext. 3039, or e-mail your request to email@example.com.
Please leave your name, address and phone number. (Note: If you e-mail your
request, it will be sent as an attachment via e-mail.)
No one wants to think about a disaster occurring, but they do happen. Being
prepared is one way to help you sleep better at night. And isn’t that
sometimes the most important thing you can have in life – a good night’s
NOTE: Just as I was finishing this article, I received a copy of the ABA
Law Practice Management Section’s Essential Formbook: Comprehensive
Management Tools. This is part of a series of publications, and this issue
addresses Disaster Planning and Recovery. It features a comprehensive discussion
of what to do in order to plan for, respond to and recover from a disaster.
There are many forms and a extensive list of resources. A CD with all of the
forms is also included, which will help you save time from reinventing the
wheel. While the cost is high ($139.95 for non-ABA Members and MSBA members),
the amount of time it may save you could easily pay for the cost of the book.
You may purchase the book at our ABA
Find links to these and other resources on the MSBA website at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm:
In addition, you can find a number of sites specific to the cleanup for Hurricane
Katrina on the MSBA website.