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An Ounce of Preparation

March 16, 2013 – What’s the saying – expect the unexpected?  As a librarian, I don’t necessarily expect to find everything that comes across my desk interesting.  That’s hardly the point, is it: the point is that because someone will find it interesting, it belongs in the library.  Some items have broad appeal, others far less.  In my opinion, The Journal of Accountancy falls into the second group.  To be honest, just reading the title almost puts me to sleep.  Even so, the current issue features an article with great relevance for virtually all of us.  The article?  “Preparing for Disaster.”
While that title may strike some as unnecessarily apocalyptic, I would ask that you try to see it differently.  It has been written with an eye toward learning from the experiences of others – in this case, three CPA firms in very different locations: the Jersey shore, New Orleans, and Joplin, Mo.  The firm in New Jersey struggled to remain up and running in spite of nine of its 14 offices sustaining damage during Superstorm Sandy.  The company in Joplin has constructed a tornado shelter, partly in response to its employees’ psychological needs.  The third firm continues to deal with the fallout resulting from Hurricane Katrina.

What were the challenges?  It is entirely possible that one day, any one of us might find ourselves in similar situations.  For Withum Smith + Brown, losing nine offices was only the beginning.  SS Sandy also knocked out 25% of cellphone towers in a 10-state area.  While WSB had put in place a post-disaster communication strategy, it had not allowed for this contingency.  Forced – as we all are, from time to time – to think on their feet, IT came up with these solutions: 1) converting the firm’s internal website into a bulletin board where employees could find critical information; and 2) reliance upon texting to raise awareness about the internal website.
Bourgeois Bennett took a different approach.  With floodwaters rising to rooftop level in 80% of New Orleans, cellphone towers again took a hit.  BB decided that an externally hosted bulletin board (i.e., one outside Hurricane Katrina’s reach) would be most helpful.  Later, during recovery mode, water was found to have seeped into their office building, causing mold.  The company was forced to temporarily relocate to a site in Houma, La., an hour away from New Orleans.  Might they have been better prepared?  No mention is made of a disaster recovery plan.  These days, every company, every community, and every family needs one.  Not only that – it needs to be regularly updated, as well.

At Hardy, Wrestler and Assoc., one of the biggest problems has been psychological.  It’s not surprising that employees of the Joplin, Mo. firm retain a heightened fear of high winds and storms, precursors to tornadoes.  For this reason, the company elected to build a tornado shelter as part of their new building.  The shelter is stocked with emergency supplies like water, flashlights and first aid kits.  Bourgeois Bennett introduced additional mental health care options.  Sixteen of its employees lost everything they owned in the hurricane, something from which it is not easy to recover.  There is a need for them to feel that they’re not facing an uncertain future all by themselves.

We’re all in that boat, aren’t we?


With thanks to the Journal of Accountancy.


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