Blog Post

The Winds of Change: Are You Prepared for the 2022 Hurricane Season

April 4, 2022

The Winds of Change: Are You Prepared for the 2022 Hurricane Season?

This year is shaping up to be another above average year for storms.  

That may be an indicator of the unpredictability—and strength—of what’s ahead this year for organizations susceptible to hurricanes and other natural disasters. It may also be a valuable reminder of the necessity of a disaster and business continuity plan that includes protecting your critical documents.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), almost 40 percent of small businesses don’t reopen after a natural disaster. In the case of hurricanes, 70 percent of businesses never recover.

When it comes to natural disasters, the news is never good. For employees, partners, shareholders, vendors and customers of businesses that don’t recover from the impact, the effects can be devastating and long-lasting. For government agencies, not resuming operations after a disaster is simply not an option.

From maintaining public safety to licensing or managing school records, public service organizations must quickly resume service despite the impacts of a disaster. In fact, for some organizations—the aftermath of natural disasters often generates a more urgent—and critical—need for services.

The reality is that agencies must continue to operate despite sudden catastrophes. In many cases, document management and accessibility is the key to providing uninterrupted service. However, time and time again, we see organizations with business continuity and disaster preparedness plans that underestimate or completely ignore paper documents. Without a disaster preparedness plan for document management, there is significant risk for loss and the high cost of document recovery efforts (if possible) following a natural disaster.

Natural disasters are unpredictable, but preparedness eliminates risk. A thoughtfully crafted plan that considers critical documents is an essential first step toward business continuity in the event of a disaster. 

Let’s explore the reasons why. 

Your Paper Documents Are (Very) Vulnerable

Loss of business documents and critical records is one of the greatest risks during and after natural disasters. One of the many secondary events of natural disasters is water and fire damage, making paper extremely vulnerable.

Even in typical, everyday conditions, information stored in paper format deteriorates over time. Water and fire damage from natural disasters significantly increases the risk of loss and damage. Restoration is costly and not always successful.

Disaster Means Document Accessibility Decreases While Public Need Increases

The aftermath of a natural disaster like a hurricane often means closed or dangerous roads, delaying and complicating your access to on- and off-site storage, significantly impeding your ability to access information. This is particularly problematic when people—especially when displaced—have highly critical and time- sensitive needs.

An Issue of Security

In the event of disaster, what if records are destroyed or exposed? 

Following a catastrophic event, paper and on-premise server storage present major security risks. File cabinets under lock and key and log books provide minimum security, and they are no match for the effects of natural disasters.

Because storage is not typically considered a budget priority, documents—even critical ones— are often kept in areas like basements and attics, which are at high risk for flooding and leaks, or far off warehouses that are less of a priority for power restoration and structural clearance after a big storm.

These are especially important considerations for government agencies and businesses operating under privacy regulations such as HIPAA. When documents are unavailable, destroyed, or made public, it can mean exposure to audit and litigation risk, and even regulatory fines.

The (High) Price of Restoration

Paper documents are expensive to duplicate, expensive to store, expensive to retrieve. These costs rise in the aftermath of natural disasters when documents are exposed to water or smoke. In many cases, damage from water combined with chemicals or sewage is irreversible.

If a document can be restored, the cost typically averages a dollar per page. If you consider the average banker’s box holds about 2,000 pages, restoration would amount to $2,000 per box. What would it cost to try to restore 1,000 boxes of damaged files?

How Quickly Could Your Business or Agency Recover? At What Cost?

Managing paper documents in an area where natural disasters are common presents serious business risks. A risk we see frequently with our clients is that document management preparedness is not high-priority in either funding or focus—particularly for government entities.

Until disaster strikes.

Often, until a document in high demand is unavailable, working with and storing paper documents doesn’t seem risky. Like most things, we don’t realize the value until we need them and they’re not accessible.

While you may have a disaster preparedness plan, how well thought out and carefully crafted is the document management portion of your plan? To get this component of the planning right, start by considering a specific document or category of documents, and ask: What would happen if this information was lost forever? If the answer is that there would be serious implications, then the next step should be developing a plan to disaster-proof your documents.

A Five-Step Plan to Disaster-Proof Your Documents

1.     Evaluate Current Disaster Preparedness Plan

Take a look at your current plan, does it include a plan to ensure uninterrupted, secure access to your critical documents before, after and during a natural disaster? In most cases, we find that existing plans do include some level of consideration for documents, but need to be updated or strengthened; or there is no plan in place specific to critical documents and needs to be developed.

2.     Develop or Update the Plan to Address Documents

If a document management preparedness plan exists but needs to be updated or strengthened, be sure it considers the unique needs of all business units and stakeholders. Often, an out of date plan fails to address complete document inventories.  Schedule a reminder to review the plan regularly to be sure it is updated alongside organizational changes. If developing a disaster plan for the first time, it’s important to include strategies focused on protecting critical documents.

3.     Prioritize

Next, conduct an assessment by identifying:

·      High-value document assets;

·      Where sensitive documents are stored;

·      Which files are heavily used, who is using them, and which departments they align with.

With an understanding of document classification and activity, you can better prioritize the content that must be on hand during and after a disaster and what groups will need to access what.

Determine which of your most critical documents are currently in paper format, which are digital, and where they’re stored. Remember, even digital documents stored on an on-premise server may still be at risk or hard to access after a disaster.

This prioritization exercise is important because not all documents are created equal. Since it can be costly to ensure all information is always accessible, prioritize what is most critical, then address those first.

4.     Retention Scheduling

Following a clear retention policy is always a best practice in records management, but it is particularly important as part of disaster preparedness and risk mitigation. A retention scheduling policy addresses what documents must be retained and for how long.

For many government agencies, retention scheduling policies are often set by state or local statutes. For most other businesses, corporate counsel is the best guide. Once retention requirements are met, these files should be destroyed—both the digital and paper formats. Doing so saves money and resources and helps to avoid unnecessary costs for imaging or recovery activities.

5.     Digitize

The only way to eliminate risk of loss is through a cloud-based document management solution. Remember, digital documents stored in an on-premise server still presents risk during natural disasters. 

Scanning and converting paper documents to digital files reduces the likelihood of loss from fire and other natural disasters or age-related deterioration, and it eliminates recovery costs and downtime.

But digitizing your documents is only the first step. A cloud-based document management solution ensures your most important content is safe and accessible. The fact is that recovery of paper documents or digital documents stored via on-premise servers is not a guarantee of business continuity when disaster hits. It takes a proactive approach to be prepared and protect content.  Digitizing paper documents and implementing a cloud-based document management solution is the only way to eliminate risk and ensure uninterrupted access and operations.

The Season to Get Started

The transformation from paper to digital does not happen overnight, but doing nothing leaves your organization at risk of loss, exposure, and high recovery costs. Begin with the most critical documents, and start preparing today.

Digital documents stored in a cloud-based document management solution is the only way to guarantee protection and preparedness.  Leveraging an established cloud platform also means you won’t have to worry about the technical aspects of security, compliance, updates, redundancy, failover, and business continuity.

No matter where you are in the process, we can help you prepare and eliminate risk. If you’re ready to get started, we’d love to share our experience and technology with you.

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