Disaster Planning At Northern Insuring Agency, Inc

Nobody likes to think of disaster befalling, whether it is personal or corporate. Flood, fire, natural disaster, data security breach, or even a personal tragedy can visit any of us at any moment. “Even if you know what to do when something goes wrong, it is still hard to handle,” Deena McCullough stated. “But having a plan in place so you can respond immediately can make things a lot easier.” And if anyone knows, she does. McCullough’s company, Northern Insuring, is in the business of planning for emer- gencies. But it took a regional disaster, the ice storm of 1998, to get the company started thinking about its own emergency back-up plan.

When the ice storm hit, McCullough’s father Rod Giltz was out of town. She was young at the time, only 13 years into the business. “I knew what to do, but it was still very hard,” she remembered. “You really have to stop and think, ‘Who should I call first? What steps needed to be taken?’ ” After the storm Northern Insurance set out to create the beginnings of what is currently a well-thought out, multi- faceted plan for addressing all manner of emergencies, whether those affect a few staff, the physical plant or the entire region.

Knowing full well that they could not plan for every emergency, Northern designed a structure that would work in many differ- ent situations, including plans for employee notifications, internal and external communications, data access, contingency planning, training, and drills. The plan is reviewed, practiced and issues are periodically assessed. “It sounds daunting,” McCullough said. “But just start with one thing. When I have a daunting task I find it helps to just do one part, and then later you can do one more thing. It is much better to do a little than none at all!”

Designing a plan doesn’t have to be a huge effort. “We wanted to make sure to include people by taking all departmental needs into consid- eration and getting input and suggestions,” McCullough said. “But the actual plan was put together by just three of us.” McCullough chose to involve Michael-Ann Strack and Jason Bruce as her team- mates, and they share the responsibility for ongoing training and maintenance surrounding the plan. Bruce works the IT, buildings/ grounds and maintenance side of the plan and Strack keeps the list and plan updated.

Communication is key. It starts with letting every employee know what is happening. “My employee call list is the most important part of the plan, because with it I know that we can all get in touch with each other and one person doesn’t have to call everyone else,” McCullough stated. A phone tree with employee names and num- bers can easily be housed online using drop-box or Google Drive, and will be accessible from any location. Close behind in impor- tance is a communication plan that includes press contacts and other important emergency numbers. The simple act of having these items written down when you are under stress means you don’t have to think about what to do. It can save valuable time.

Physical plant security and contingency planning are next on the list. If you are faced with a disaster that affects your physical plant, you will need to understand your coverages. “Having insurance isn’t a disaster plan, but it is a part of what you need to understand,” McCullough noted. She explained that knowing what is covered makes it possible to plan much more thoroughly. Will you need to move to a differ- ent location? Can some employees work from home? How quickly will you be able to reopen? Knowing the answers to these questions ahead of time can mean the difference between success and failure if something goes wrong.

Once you have some basic plans, you can practice them. “Every power failure is a chance to practice our plan,” McCullough laughed. “I come into the office sometimes, and see Jason with his headlamp on investigating something and it’s great. We have fire drills, and we practice everything.” Practicing the elements can make you aware of where you need to shore up your preparedness. “Basic physical plant maintenance is also important,” she added.

Data security is a growing concern for every business. Westelcom helped Northern Insuring plan a co-location for data backup, so there is redundancy in case of loss. If your business relies on data kept on a single server, this may be one of the early areas you need to address in a plan. “We accidentally deleted a folder the other day,” Bruce said. “It became a mini-disaster recovery effort. It was nice to know that we have the capability to restore lost data.”

If your business doesn’t have a written disaster plan, consider taking steps to put one on paper. Whether it is simple or elaborate, it will get you started thinking about what you would do if your office went up in smoke tomorrow. “Only one in four businesses has a plan to address catastrophic loss,” McCullough said. Is your business ready?