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Is Your Organization Prepared for a Disaster?

Disaster preparednessTen years have passed since Hurricane Katrina caused $135 billion in damages along the Gulf coast. Unfortunately, businesses in New Orleans learned the hard way about the importance of disaster preparedness. Like many charities, the Greater New Orleans Foundation could not stop working. It simply was not an option, as the Foundation’s leadership was called upon to help with disaster relief.

Below are a number of steps you can take to prepare your organization for a disaster:

Plan ahead. Amid the chaos of a crisis, including anything from flooding to an office fire, it’s important to have a written continuity of operations plan. First, a core team should be identified to handle critical tasks. All home and mobile phone numbers for staff, as well as alternate email addresses, should be included in the document. If your organization outsources functions such as IT or payroll, it’s important to become familiar with your service providers’ disaster preparedness plans. In addition to keeping an electronic copy, staff should keep a copy of your organization’s plan in the trunk of their car so it’s not forgotten during an evacuation. Lastly, prior to hurricane, tornado or earthquake season, schedule a meeting with your staff to review your operations plan so all employees understand their role in the event of a natural disaster.

Be prepared to communicate. Communication—with staff, vendors and clients, customers or donors—is vital during a crisis. I have found that sending text messages is more reliable than landline or cell phone calls because cell phone networks can go down making it hard to get a reliable signal. As part of our plan, we instituted a daily all staff conference call so we can work through any issues and stay in touch. Another tip is to update your organization’s website to include your office status along with any other information relevant to the particular situation. Setting up an intranet where employees can go to retrieve messages can be helpful. If your website is not already hosted offsite, you may want to consider this option so it remains live if your office loses power or is damaged.

Have a backup location. When Hurricane Katrina struck, I was working for a large bank and I saw how important it was for management and other key teams to have a different place to continue operations when an entire city is evacuated. Consider ways to replicate your entire organization outside of your physical office location. Depending on the severity of the disaster, you may want to relocate to space in another city, or have staff work remotely. Backup your information in cloud-based servers and ensure that you have electronic copies of all important documents so that it remains accessible, regardless of location.

Keep money going in and out. While larger organizations will not have difficulty accessing funds in the event of a natural disaster, smaller organizations and not-for-profits should make arrangements ahead of time. For example, to maintain access to our finances, I’ve arranged to have a banking contact in Dallas in case our local banking contacts are inaccessible or locations closed.

At the foundation we place a great deal of emphasis on planning and communication. The steps we’ve taken are now so familiar, they’re easy to remember. It’s impossible to communicate too much about your disaster plans, before, during and after. You’ll be glad you did should a disaster strike.

The AICPA, in collaboration with the American Red Cross and the National Endowment for Financial Education, has created Disasters and Financial Planning: A Guide for Preparedness and Recovery. This resource is designed to help individuals and businesses minimize the potential impact of disasters.

Ryan Crespino, CPA, Vice President of Finance and Administration, Greater New Orleans Foundation. Ryan joined the Foundation in September 2007 as Vice President of Finance and Administration. In his role, he oversees the Foundation’s financial and investment activities, information technology systems, human resources and administrative operations. 

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