How We Remained "Open" During Hurricane Sandy And Its Aftermath

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Many companies have elaborate and lengthy plans to deal with an emergency or casualty. For our Manhattan-based law firm whose traffic ticket lawyers fight moving violations issued throughout New York State, we have a three-step plan. Our plan is so simple, we don’t even have to document it. While larger operations need a formalized, written plan, I believe for most small business owners our process will work.

In fact, I know that this plan works as our law firm remained “open” during one of the worst disasters to ever strike New York City.  We have many traffic ticket clients from upstate New York, Ontario, Quebec, New Jersey and elsewhere who were unaffected by the storm.  They contacted us and wanted a response.  I’m proud to write that we answered almost every telephone call, email and fax, covered every scheduled case and even managed to get hired on a few new matters.  All this while our building was closed for a week, mass transit was shut down, and most of our staff were without power and displaced from their homes.

Caveat: I want to first define what I mean by the word “open”. I do not mean fully operational. In fact, I don’t even mean that you could come to our office.  Our building was closed and without power for one week following the storm. Instead, what I mean by “open” is able to answer and respond to calls, emails and faxes, and ensure that all urgent work is covered. One person cannot replace the work of seven employees and roughly 25 of-counsel attorneys. But one person can keep you treading water so that immediate needs are handled.

With the understanding that this process does not prevent business interruption or loss of revenue, here are the three steps.

Step 1: The remote employee. You need one key person who works remotely in a location far from your business’ location. Of course, he or she better be highly competent and well versed in all facets of your business. In our case, our office manager, Rosemarie (who works from her home office in Jacksonville, Florida) is an A-player.

The rationale behind step one is obvious. When an area is hit with a disaster, your staff is rendered virtually useless. They are likely home-bound without electricity, WiFi and possibly even cell phone service. Further, your employees are dealing with more pressing issues like protecting themselves, their family and home immediately before and during the emergency and, then, dealing with food, gas, lack of hot water, darkness, etc during its aftermath.

With a remote employee, your business has someone who is not impacted by the casualty and who can focus on keeping the business up-and-running by handling sales, operations and customer service issues.

Step 2: VOIP telephones. Get a VOIP telephone system. This internet-based system allows anyone with internet access and one of our telephones to answer our phone calls anywhere in the world. Plus it is less expensive than maintaining land lines. To the customer, it appears that his or her call is being answered at the business location. Despite massive power outages, record flooding and Hurricane-speed winds, Rosemarie answered almost every call that came in while the rest of our crew was dealing with the disaster.

Step 3: Cloud-Based Systems. The final step is having all your operations in the clouds. We use Gmail, Google calendar and Google documents. It is free and works great. For faxes, we pay a small monthly fee to get them emailed to us.  Finally, our database is cloud-based and was adeptly designed by Reliable Group. This application handles sales, contact management, calendaring, billing and operations. Our application is customize built but there are many “off-the-shelves” cloud solutions (a modern day oxymoron) that do the trick. As you can read, with the cloud-based items most of our work can be done anywhere  that has internet access. Further, Reliable made sure that our cloud server was hosted with a company located outside the New York area (and which had multiple back-ups). This combination allowed our application to remain un-interrupted throughout the storm and its aftermath.

Combining the three steps, you see that Rosemarie could answer and respond to calls emails and faxes, look up what cases we had scheduled, assign attorneys, obtain court results, etc., etc. A side benefit was that she could also monitor the television for traffic court closures and mass transit information, and update us with storm news.

While imperfect, if you implement these three steps, you can minimize interruption to your business and be in a much better position once the storm passes.

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