Disaster Recovery, No; Business Continuity, Yes

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What would you do if there were a natural disaster – a hurricane, flood or wildfire? These were recently all too real for many people. Is your firm prepared with a business continuity/disaster mitigation plan? I know a number of accounting firms that are still ill prepared when it comes to having a formal plan … after all, firms are excellent in helping their clients, but not necessarily themselves.

Unforeseeable disasters make it necessary for all firms to have a written plan so that every employee knows how to react and what their responsibilities are going to be. There are many items to think about when putting together a plan, but it should revolve around employee safety and business survival.

Do your employees have a contact list for everyone, including cell numbers and personal emails, in case business emails are down? How about a call chain? A number of firms require employees to have a Gmail address to be used in case of disaster, as well as a Google Hangout address as a meeting site. In some cases, texting (which requires less bandwidth than voice) could be used.

All planning should take into consideration the region in which the firm is located and available resources, and at the very least, build a checklist of items to plan for, and steps to be followed, to ensure everyone is accounted for from a personal and business perspective.

For a firm to be up and running in the shortest possible timeframe, the plan should make sure all of the data the firm needs is backed up regularly, in addition to the applications.

One of the items to think about is making sure that all your data is backed up regularly in multiple offsite locations so that you can access it easily via the cloud. Making backup copies of all of your data and then keeping it in a safe in the office doesn’t do you any good if the office is under water or in the middle of a fire zone. All applications the firm uses with this data should also be available from a remote site.

Each firm’s plan should be unique and based on the tools available to the employees. If the firm has furnished each person with a laptop, then each employee should be accountable for its safekeeping. Each employee should also be issued instructions on how to turn their cell phone into a hot spot or be given a MiFi card if needed to communicate remotely.

As part of this checklist, clients should be notified how to contact the firm in case there are closings or changes in hours of operation. Internally, names and contact numbers of organizations that assist in times of disaster should be readily available to assist employees if needed. There also should be a designated partner within the firm to assist employees with personal issues such as finding food and shelter.

The bottom line is that all firms should have a written plan that can be tested in advance to make sure it is sound and nothing is overlooked. In addition, firms should back up documents and applications on a daily basis in multiple offsite locations and make sure all employees are trained to follow the plan in an emergency. Checklists can be found from various sources such as CPA Practice Advisor.

Editor’s Note: If you have clients affected by any of the recent disasters, check out these two articles in Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Pro Center: Hurricane Victims Get Additional Relief With the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017 and IRS Gives Tax Relief to Victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

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