Hey Dad… about your car…

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The story I’m about to tell you is true.

There I was, on a beautiful sunny day in 1983 driving through the Notre Dame student parking lot in my father’s beautiful sky blue 1969 Corvair convertible. What an understandably excellent mood I was in! And then…. Not. That great day was destroyed in an instant by a horrible crash and heavy scraping noise. I didn’t know what had happened, but I was fairly sure it wasn’t good, so I stopped the car, shut off the engine, and walked to the back (from whence the horrible noise had come). And there I saw it – the unexpected sight of the car engine ON THE GROUND!!!

I had no plan in place for this sort of disaster, other than the “Call Dad” plan. And while it worked for me then in 1983, I currently recommend to clients that a somewhat broader and more detailed disaster recovery plan be developed. Does your business have one? I expect that as with many of my business clients, a customer or supplier has asked for you for a copy of your disaster recovery plan or your business continuity plan. The former is just what it says – how your business will cope with a disaster of various types. The latter is somewhat broader, as it focuses on identifying and preventing disasters (i.e. business interruptions) in addition to setting out what should be done in the case the unexpected strikes.

It sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it? Figure out what to do if a disaster strikes. In general, these are the areas that require significant study and analysis:

1. Identify the unique risks that your business faces and rank them in order of likelihood, and the damage that each would cause. Building fire? Destructive weather? Labor strike? Death of owner? IT failure? Security breach?

2. Identify the resources that you would need to have at the ready to cope with each of these. Who is in charge? Which employees are critical to handling each of the identified issues? Who is the backup for each of those people, and how do you reach them? What third parties should be included on the resource list?

3. Develop a written plan for dealing with the crisis. How fast can you get up and running? What systems can be handled away from the building? Involve those at every level who can add to the plan.

4. Test it!! It is not enough to have a plan, you need to make sure that it will work, and that all those who have a role in it are clear on what they need to do.

The goals are multiple – identify your risks, prevent what you can, and should disaster strike, minimize your loss of business (and reputation). And where do I come in? I should be a part of the team that is identified to deal with one or more of the disasters, and my input in those areas will be important. Making your lawyer a part of your strategy for business continuity ensures that you don’t forget to deal for instance, with contractual obligations that the disaster has just caused you to unintentionally breach. In most disaster situations you will need to handle insurance matters, bank negotiations, employment law issues and more – all areas where legal counsel is needed. And while I will do my very best for your company even if you first call me AFTER the disaster, being generally familiar with your plan and having had some input on it up front will give us all an advantage if disaster does strike.

We’ve been talking about identifying, planning for, preventing and coping with disaster. That alone is a HUGE benefit to your business. In addition, having a plan to provide when asked (subject to an NDA please, and perhaps in redacted form) shows your customers/vendors/suppliers/lending institutions/investors that your company is prepared and serious about operations. Finally, the significant efforts involved in going through the four steps above will yield other benefits. As you develop your plan, expect to discover gaps in your current operations, and weaknesses in communication and management structure that when dealt with will improve day to day functions

So, for all of you wondering about the car and the success of my “Call Dad” recovery plan? Corvair engines are mounted in the back of the car and held up by a hinge on one side and TWO BOLTS on the other. In the case of my father’s car, the bolts stripped and down came that side of the engine. As dramatic as it was, fixing it wasn’t too bad (for me anyway, I called my father back in Minnesota, he tracked down a car repair shop in South Bend that sent a flat bed, and I had the car back in a few days). After I graduated from law school I bought the car from my father, and enjoyed it until I sold it in 2009. Car adventures run in our family…future blogs may feature the story of my nice husband driving a different convertible to storage in November. With the top down. While it was snowing. (yes, that blog will talk about the many advantages of advance planning).

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