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Prestige Insurance Group, Inc.

Readiness boosts firms, even if an anticipated natural disaster doesn't hit. Tips for tackling the unexpected:

  • Carry the weight. Buckets and brawn revived Peer 1 Hosting during Hurricane Sandy last October. A strenuous trek — hauling five-gallon buckets of diesel fuel up 17 flights to the firm's backup generator — kept servers running for 94 clients who depend on the company's New York City data center for 24/7 Web hosting.

The stop-gap measure bought the company time.

"There were a lot of what-ifs and what-do-we-do-nows," said data center manager Michael Mazzei.

His No. 1 rule: Keep cool.

"Even if you don't have a lot of time, look at your options and then execute," he told IBD.

  • Anticipate it. Long before Sandy's landfall, Mazzei sought advice from the firm's Florida office. A big tip: "Go on generator (beforehand) so you know it's working."
  • Band together. Clients — without power themselves — showed up at Peer 1's office. Many helped with the fuel bucket brigade. "Our customers were very pivotal those first few days," Mazzei said.
  • Streamline the chatter. "We created a pretty tight chain of command," Mazzei said. "For the first couple of days, those were the only guys I spoke to." Freed from fielding every call or text, he focused on the work at hand.
  • Pass it on. Mazzei updated Gary Sherlock, chief financial officer of Peer 1 Hosting, which has 600 employees in 18 cities. Sherlock relayed those updates to key constituents. "We were in constant dialogue with our customers," he said.
  • Gear up. Invest in batteries and blankets. "You're going to end up helping other people as well as your own infrastructure," Sherlock said.
  • Get ahead of it. Every firm should have a disaster strategy. So said Ken Katz, property risk control director with insurance firm Travelers (TRV): "Thinking about it is not a plan. If you know what to do, it's easy to go ahead and execute it."
  • Take the steps. No. 1: "Know what your risks are," Katz said.

Next, analyze the potential business impact of a weather catastrophe.

"What would you want to restore first?" Katz said.

Maybe it's refrigeration for a restaurant, or Internet connection for an online retailer.

Then: "Spend your resources wisely," Katz said. If power is essential, budget for a backup generator.

Finally, test the plan with a dry run.

"There are always take-aways," Katz said.

  • Urge self-reliance. Employers often assume their workers will be on site helping out during an emergency.

Staffers might have other first concerns.

"They'll go take care of their families," Katz said. "As a business, you would be well advised to encourage family preparedness plans."

  • Formalize it. Make readiness part of employees' annual performance reviews.

"Hold people accountable for it," Katz said.

  • Write it down. During and after a storm, don't forget to "document, document and document some more," said James O'Brien, partner with accounting, tax and consulting firm ParenteBeard.

Besides taking photos, keep a record of exactly how the business was interrupted.

"You're going to need to substantiate why you went down," he said.

  • Balance the risk. Consult an expert to weigh the cost of insurance coverage vs. the financial impact of a potential disaster.

"That's the balancing act," O'Brien said. "It's difficult for most businesses."

If you have questions about Kendall Business Insurance and how to prepare for a disaster in your business, give Prestige Insurance Group a call at 305-969-8776. We look forward to helping you.

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