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(This article appeared in Journal 23,1, March 2018)

The news images are shocking. Whether it is tornado damage in the Midwest or flooding after a hurricane in eastern North Carolina, disasters can strike at any time and can come in many different forms. Hurricanes come with advanced warning allowing time to prepare; other disasters happen so quickly they are over before you have time to think. No matter what type of disaster you face, careful planning can make surviving more likely.

Proper leadership makes surviving a disaster easier. Avoiding or reducing the severity of disasters begins with assessing the risks associated with location, and office procedures. Once risks are assessed, the disaster recovery plan can be developed so that processes for minimizing damage and recovering afterwards can be established.

Tips for Recovery

After the dust has settled, it’s time to get to work putting the pieces back together. This is the time when the emergency leader takes charge and puts your plan into action. Having the channels of communication pre-planned and direction for how things should be handled helps prevent mass panic because certain steps will be taken to reorganize the office.


The basic starting point is assembling your staff to begin working again as quickly as possible. Establish a phone tree to contact employees. If it is necessary to operate from another location due to building damage, your disaster plan leader will make the arrangements and pass along the information. To speed up the process of choosing alternate operating locations, select a few options before disaster strikes and keep the information with your disaster kit. Emergency locations can be outside the box, such as a townhouse complex that might have more availability options upon short term notice.

Once available staff members come together, hold a debriefing meeting. The purpose is to give staff a clear picture of the state of affairs for the firm. This will prevent some watercooler gossip and help establish the operational procedures should there be differences due to changes in circumstances. Teamwork and communication should be prominent topics.

Part of regrouping is helping staff recover from the disaster. Some will cope better than others. For large scale events, consider offering therapy sessions to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder. Regardless of size, be aware that any major event can cause some personality types great distress and affect their work habits.

Client communication should also be a top priority at this stage. Make every attempt possible to contact your clients as soon as you have reestablished operations to let them know you are available. If they have been affected by the disaster, this is one less worry they have to deal with. If the disaster was not widespread, such as a fire in your building, they will be relieved that their cases have not been thrown off track by events.

Returning to Normalcy

Although it will seem impossible when disaster strikes, a well prepared firm will eventually return to normal operations. Files will be recreated from the electronic documents stored in computers. Your calendar will once again require a map to navigate for the untrained eye. Normalcy, however, may not equal the same as it was before. Changes in surroundings may require changes in procedures. Necessity may present a better way of doing things. Avoid the “this is the way it has always been done” mentality if reasonable alternatives present themselves.

Evaluating the Disaster Response

Once things have settled down, review the disaster response to determine the effectiveness of your strategy. Were there situations you overlooked? Did certain strategies prove ineffective and other methods have to be used?

When going over the disaster response, be sure to give praise for the things that went according to plan and were executed properly. Letting the team know they did their part to keep the ball rolling boosts office morale. Having an office luncheon to celebrate surviving the disaster is another option. Have an open discussion with employees about what may have gone astray during implementation of the disaster plan. Determine if anyone felt unsure of their instructions or if something was unclear to them. This is also the time to find out if part of the procedure seemed to be problematic and could have been done better.

Review the suggested improvements to your disaster plan. Include anything you’ve noted that should be added or changed. Make the necessary changes as soon as possible. Make any other needed changes to your disaster recovery kit. If another event should come your way, you’ll be even better prepared the next time around. 

The preceeding is an excerpt from Disaster Planning and Recovery, a handout from North Carolina Lawyers Mutual that can be viewed online at This handout contains information about how to develop a plan and recover from disaster, and includes a disaster recovery checklist and additional helpful resources.

Samantha Cruff is the marketing communications coordinator for Lawyers Mutual. She can be reached at or 800-662-8843.

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