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Bracewell in the News

Disaster Planning for Business Owners: Preparing, Reacting and Resuming Life

June 6, 2006

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita brought destruction and chaos to the Gulf Coast in 2005.? The tornado that hit downtown Fort Worth in 2000 destroyed the Bank One Tower, and a 2001 flood in Houston killed people, destroyed property, interrupted business and the governmental system and rendered several major downtown buildings unusable for weeks. These disasters significantly disrupted the lives of everyone involved. Some businesses were prepared for these disasters while others were not.

The purpose of Disaster Planning for Business Owners is to help businesses prepare for a disaster, execute a plan of action when disaster strikes, and quickly resume life after the event. The suggestions presented are based on common sense and the collective experiences of disaster victims and responders.


The key to avoiding and minimizing the effects of a disaster is planning for the unexpected a task no business owner really wants to undertake. A written plan that is shared with everyone in the office to take home is critical to its successful implementation. At a minimum, the following should be considered:

  • Establish several alternative methods of communication for owners, operators and employees to contact each other for status reports.  Clearly designate the calling plan state who will call whom and who is the designated person to whom employees should report. Always designate an alternate contact person. Consider giving each person a laminated card with key telephone numbers and home addresses.  If your server goes down during a disaster, BlackBerrys and other PDAs will not work. (Be aware that the usual means of communicating by landline or cell phones may be disrupted in a disaster setting.)
  • Put one person in charge with a second person as backup who is responsible for the plan and its execution. An alternative would be a group command where the responsibilities are clearly defined. If the business is conducted on multiple floors of a building, have one person and a backup in charge of executing the plan on each floor.
  • Develop a plan to have information on your computers regularly downloaded at a "safe" location not in your office area and, if possible, not even in your immediate geographic area. This information includes all types of essential files necessary for the resumption of your business, such as client or matter-specific files, accounting files (accounts payable and accounts receivable), etc. Backing up all your computer files on a regular basis (at least monthly) is perhaps the most important preventive task that you can undertake to preserve your business.
  • Be certain important documents that cannot be easily replaced are in fire, water and wind safe locations.  This also includes licenses for and CD-Rom discs of original software that you purchased because these may need to be re-installed on new computers.
  • Participate in building evacuation drills even though they might disrupt current work flow.  Remember the Bank One Tower in the 2000 Fort Worth tornado where immediate evacuation of the building was necessary.
  • Be certain that telephone and electrical connections to the building are located above the highest flood level  avoid basements or other underground locations for storage. (Some buildings have backup generators.)


  • Upon notice of an impending danger, the most important thing to remember is that the safety of your family and co-workers is top priority, far more important than tangible items that can be replaced.
  • Execute the plan developed for impending disasters.? The plan should include at least these following action items:
    • If there is an evacuation and you have limited time to respond, quickly gather essential documents such as identification, all insurance policies and insurance carrier contact information, banking information, loan documents and any readily available and, most importantly, your family.  Take available cash because if power or the phone lines are down, there will be no ATM or credit card transactions.
    • If you are in your office or can reach your office prior to the evacuation order, move files, equipment, paintings, etc. away from windows to an area protected from wind, driven rain and rising water. In addition, remove or secure important customer or client information and important documents, computers and other essential items necessary for the resumption of your business.
    • Confirm with building management or security the action you have taken to execute your plan before you leave and tell them where you can be reached. Determine how building security will be maintained during the specific threat. If the building has pass code or card entry access  identify who has a key in the event power is still out when you are approved to enter the premises.
    • Communicate by email or phone with employees on how the plan is being implemented and establish what is expected of them. Their safety should dictate their roles.
    • Think about what will be needed to commence business activities upon return and take those materials with you.
  • Remember your family and those who depend on you, including your pets. If you leave the area, take cash, food, water and one set of work clothes for the return.


  • Contact building management or security concerning the conditions for returning to your business location. may need to find a location from which to place your computer and server and from which to temporarily operate.
  • Observe safety warnings about high water, downed power lines, broken glass, etc. Follow the instructions of law enforcement personnel. If you prepared well and executed your disaster plan, endangering yourself or others by returning to dangerous conditions will probably not be necessary.
  • Secure the office to protect any confidential or sensitive information that may otherwise be exposed.
  • Establish a temporary office if necessary in a hotel, rented office space or through an agreement with a client.
  • Using the systems pre-established in your disaster plan, communicate with your employees to update them on conditions and their roles in the return.
  • Communicate with customers or clients to advise them of the status of their projects or files. Post information on your website and use recorded telephone messages to reach people and give status reports.
  • Contact suppliers or the companies with whom you have accounts to arrange any necessary extended payment schedules.
  • Take inventory, including pictures, of the damages and contact the insurance carriers immediately. If immediate repairs are required to protect the property from further damage, contact the insurance carrier and keep detailed records.


Disaster Planning for Business Owners is a bare bones summary of the plans businesses might consider. Remember, you will not be of much help to customers or clients if you do not take care of yourself and your family so PLAN NOW!

*Adapted from the State Bar of Texas publication "Disaster Planning for Lawyers ? Preparing, Reacting and Resuming Life" (May 2006).