Hurricane Harvey: Prepare your firm for natural disaster

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This article was first published in 2016 as "Swirling winds, rising waters: Prepare your practice for a natural disaster.” It is written by a Raymond James advisor, who is also an incident commander for the Civil Air Patrol. It has been updated.

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 tornadoes, floods and fires. These disasters can be terrible 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.

Financial advisors on the East Coast have solid reasons to be worried about Hurricane Sandy – and even those far from the wreckage should be concerned, too. Advisors’ and clients’ safety rank first, but advisors also have to be concerned about their offices and property, as well as those of their clients’ and their clients’ relatives. As vital as proper insurance coverage is, it often will not cover all losses, nor losses from the disruption of business. How prepared are you and your firm to deal with a major disaster, like Sandy? Far too many advisors have no disaster recovery plan to rely on for times like this. Here are 5 questions to consider regarding you, your firm and your clients after the worst of the hurricane strikes.
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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.

During storms, advisers have to be concerned about their offices and property, as well as those of their clients’ and their clients’ relatives.

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.

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Disaster recovery Disaster planning Crisis Management Business continuity RIAs Practice management Raymond James Financial