Natural Disaster Survival Guide For Businesses: Fire & Flood

March 23, 2016

Natural Disaster Survival Guide For Businesses: Fire & Flood

By Chris Brunau

Every business has to prepare for the worst. Those that don’t may never fully recover from a disaster. However, not all disasters are created equal, so preparation isn’t the same for all business.

In this blog series, we’ll highlight various natural disaster scenarios and present best practices for businesses to prepare themselves. Today, we’re talking about one of the more common disasters amongst businesses - building fires and flooding. Fires or floods within an office or building can range from small incidents of short duration to the complete destruction of the facility.

Potential impact:

Even a relatively small fire or flood can have a very disruptive impact on a business. For example, a small fire in an office on an upper floor can result in the complete flooding of computers and telephone systems in the offices below as the building’s sprinkler systems kick in and firefighters extinguish the blaze. Similarly, even a relatively limited amount of water leaking from a broken pipe or valve can put infrastructure out of commission. A large fire, of course, can force a business to relocate operations.

Risk factors:

There are approximately 100,000 commercial building fires in the U.S. per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Those most at risk include manufacturing facilities as well as offices in close proximity to restaurants due to cooking-related fires.

Warning times:

Water damage from failed plumbing and sprinkler systems can short-circuit electronic equipment almost instantly. However, building alarm systems typically give employees a few minutes to shut down critical systems and evacuate the premises.

Technology continuity:

As noted above, the severity and length of business disruptions caused by fires and flooding varies. To prepare for extended or permanent facility damage, businesses should:

  • Maintain continuous off-site backup of data, applications and server images.
  • Arrange for re-routing incoming calls to an alternate site and employees’ mobile phones.
  • Prepare an emergency message for the company website that can be activated immediately and progressively as the consequences of the event unfold and the business responds.

People continuity:

Because building fires and flooding only impact individual structures (or, at worst, just a few adjoining ones as well), businesses have a lot of options for keeping employees productive during these disasters. Business Continuity plans should include:

  • Arrangements in advance with a nearby shared/furnished office space provider, hotel, college, or other facility for an immediate operations command center.
  • Next-day workspace provisioning in another company facility, emergency failover “cold site,” or at home personal computers with appropriate call forwarding. Internal communications for updated employees on resource availability, recovery status, etc.
  • Any necessary third-party contracting for shipping/receiving, mail processing, duplicating, etc.

Process continuity:

Because building fires and flooding are highly localized events, they typically only disrupt processes that touch a single location. Therefore, business continuity plans need to provide for alternative locations and means to perform actions such as:

  • Answering phones
  • Processing orders
  • Issuing invoices
  • Signing checks
  • Filing reports required by regulatory mandates

Insurance considerations:

A properly insured business should have a policy that covers the expenses above, in addition to the physical damage directly caused by the fire or flood. Businesses may also seek policy provisions that address work done from home or other locations while the facility is under repair (and/or a new location is secured) as well as business losses that may occur despite best-effort BC planning and execution.

To get started in the right direction and help ensure you have the basics of a good disaster recovery plan in place, download our eBook, Natural Disaster Survival Guide For Businesses.

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