Disaster can come in many forms, and businesses need to be prepared with a Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Plan (DRP). Your firm, whether you are on your own or have many employees, must have a clearly defined plan in order to protect your people, your clients, and your business.
Categories to Consider
Most people would not have ever imagined the need to shutter their businesses for weeks due to a pandemic, but it happened. Besides health disasters, you should be prepared for natural disasters like flooding, blizzards, hurricanes, and tornadoes (which do sometimes hit Pennsylvania); fire; terrorist strikes; and extended periods of loss of electricity.
Damage can be caused to your facility, your communications systems, and your access to critical client data. Take some time to develop plans that address risk mitigation, procedures during the disaster, and post-disaster recovery. These plans are distinct from your cybersecurity plans, although there is some overlap. Cyber threats are real and ongoing, and you must have a mitigation and recovery plan for all your electronic data as well.
Questions to Ask Yourself
These questions are meant only to begin your brainstorming process. Specific DRP details can be found online, or you can engage the service of a third-party expert or a company that specializes in developing these plans for accounting firms. Ask yourself:
- What are some likely, and even unlikely, disasters or events that could drastically impact our ability to function as a firm?
- What specific impacts might each of these disasters have on our firm?
- If we lost electricity, what would we lose access to, and how could we prepare to work around it?
- If our office was damaged, what would we lose access to, and how could we prepare to work around it?
Mitigation and Recovery
After answering the questions above, consider ways to limit damage to your firm’s ability to function. A few suggestions:
- Cross-train employees in critical processes in case certain employees are unavailable after the event.
- Have cloud or off-site backup of client information and ensure you will be able to access it outside of your office. (Your cybersecurity plan should address strong security measures for information storage.)
- Have evacuation plans in case a storm, fire, or other disaster strikes during business hours.
- Keep hardcopy work that you are currently using in the office in watertight, airtight, secure containers at night, and instruct staff to keep only one client’s work on their desks at a time
- Have an alternate meeting place where work can be continued
- Keep a list of employee and client contact information in hardcopy and provide this to several key people in your firm to be kept off-site. Cell service is often disrupted during natural disasters, but texts often can get through better than phone calls because they require less bandwidth. However, keep people’s landlines (if they have them) and addresses, so that if cell communication is disrupted, you can still reach them.
You will need to plan ways to keep your firm viable in the aftermath of a disaster, especially if it impacted a portion of your community, and you’ll want to address the needs of your clients and your employees. A few suggestions:
If you have maintained an off-site backup or cloud system, you can assure your clients that their critical documents are safe and secure, which should provide a level of relief and build their confidence in you.
Consider the possible emotional impact on your employees and your clients and develop plans to allow staff to help in the community to create a sense of empowerment and hope, which can help in the emotional healing process.
Get business interruption insurance before a disaster, and plan for ways to keep viable in the aftermath – for instance, offer clients and other businesses help with loan restructuring, or help organizations apply for aid through FEMA; offer flexible payment plans to keep your clients by being sensitive to their need to recover, too.
Name an overseer and a backup person who will manage recovery, including repair of facilities.
These suggestions are just a start. Do more research on DRP specifically for accounting firms, and consider getting expert help. Though we hope it never happens to you, prevention is critical to keep your firm going in the aftermath of a disaster.