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Practice Tips - what if the office burnt down?

15th Jul 2005
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What would happen if you had found that the office had burnt down last night?
This is an exercise I did once with a company of which I was a director. We said we were having a meeting so all key managers would be available and then early on the morning in question phoned them all and asked them to report to a hotel instead of the office. I readily admit this induced stress. When they got there we advised them that the office had burned down overnight.

Now admittedly it took very little time for them to realise that we were only kidding - some of them were key holders who might have been called, after all. And then for a few moments they were relieved about the fact that they weren't being sacked or the business wasn’t being sold. But we gave very little time to let that relief permeate before breaking them into small groups and giving them tasks to perform.

Some of these were quite straightforward. Did anyone have a staff telephone list to ensure everyone could be advised of the situation? And who had a laptop with a copy of the firm's email address book on it so that all clients could be told immediately?

What too of other key data - like suppliers who might see their payment pattern temporarily interrupted and who would need to be kept abreast of the situation?

Were we sure that no immediate liability risk had arisen from the fire? Had anything noxious been let off? Was anything confidential now floating around in the debris? Were we sure?

How could we tell the insurers? Could a risk assessor be got on site as quickly as possible?

And then, how were we going to carry on? What systems had we got that worked? When was the last back up? Where was it? Did we know of a server we could load it on? Where was it? Could we use it?

How quickly could we get our phone lines back in operation? Did we know where there was temporary office accommodation available so that we could at the very least get people back on phones to keep the world informed of what was happening?

Did we know where our software licences were? We had a backup, but could we recreate the network on which to run it?

What physical things had we lost that suddenly seemed terribly important? It was amazing how many people had notebooks and diaries in which they kept critical data to which they no longer had access - showing how important non IT backup was.

Much of what we did just required office space. But one aspect of our service was highly technical. Where could that be undertaken? If it was possible to undertake it elsewhere, what would it cost? How would lead times be altered?

The list went on, but you’ve got my drift by now. Most of us take IT backups out of the office. But what else might you really need elsewhere to keep going in the event of a disaster. It’s an exercise worth doing. Well, at least that’s what we found – and our insurers were impressed too.

Richard Murphy
AccountingWEB contributing editor Richard Murphy is a sole practitioner chartered accountant but was previously senior partner of a firm for 11 years. He has also been chairman, chief executive or finance director of 10 SMEs. A collection of previous articles by Richard on practice management themes is available in Practice Management Zone



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