Swirling winds, rising waters: Prepare your practice for a natural disaster
Editor’s note: Rick Woolfolk is an adviser and branch manager for Raymond James Financial Services in Denton, Texas. His office is located within the storm-prone U.S. region called Tornado Alley. He submitted the following piece to Raymond James in June to help member planners prepare for natural disasters.
DENTON, Texas – As an incident commander for the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, I bring aircrews and ground teams to take photographs of damage caused by tornados, floods and fires. These disasters can be really bad experiences for the victims.
Here are some of things that might be suggestions for our Raymond James team members:
Take pictures of your office when things are perfectly normal. Take lots of pictures and do this annually or bi-annually. The before pictures become invaluable if needed. If you can get a friend to take an aerial photo, that would be good for your file, too.
If your office is within 25 feet above any floodway, floodplain or body of water, make a plan for evacuation of your office, unless the ability for water to run off exceeds the possibility of a 500-year flood event reaching your building.
You might ask why 500-year and not 100-year marker. That is because the weather pattern has given us seven different 500-year flood events in different parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana in the past 13 months.
The East Coast has also had 500-year events over the past year. Put thought, and action, into what needs to be moved, raised to higher levels or protected. It’s better to do this in advance, rather than after it is raining a gale. Also think about where you keep records stored. Storage units are often in-less expensive real estate locations, and thus sometimes more prone to water problems.
If you live in state with tornado occurrences, give some thought how you store things in your office when you leave at night when adverse weather is forecast. Put thing in file cabinets or in drawers and secured so they don’t become flying debris. Obtain locking file cabinets that might make papers more secure and keep drawers closed. I have seen very few really bad storms pop up that were not forecast hours in advance.
You should take a look around your office and notice extension cords, debris on the floor, especially file rooms and HVAC/hot water areas. Look at space heaters if you allow them to be used, make sure they are off and unplugged at night; make sure things are not stored around them for situations that could become hazardous. This may be the most difficult disaster to recover from.
Do you have a computer back-up off site for your information? How do you restore if needed? Who are your contacts at the utility department, phone company, gas company, etc? Can you get a back-up generator big enough to get your office running again? In the event of a wide-spread situation, generators for hundreds of miles will all be leased.
None of us want a water event, a severe storm to drop a tornado or a fire, but they do happen. Of course insurance and business interruption insurance would help, but the emotional price will be high also. Prepare to reduce that risk.