Dealing with disaster: A contingency plan

6a00d8341c639653ef017c332b24ea970bHurricane Sandy walloped the media world last week, striking at the height of event season and forcing office shutdowns and many trade shows to cancel or postpone (such as Folio:’s rebranded MediaNext show). Many offices closed for much of the week.

The ability to work remotely prevented Sandy from causing a complete shutdown, with edit, sales, operations, etc. able to connect with customers and co-workers thanks to cloud-based systems and mobile devices (SourceMedia, headquartered below Wall Street in lower Manhattan, continues to operate remotely).

Many media organizations were able to provide live coverage of the storm, as well as their usual beats, through social media and alternate channels.  eMedia Vitals notes that Hurricane Sandy may have validated Instagram, with users posting more than 10 pictures per second at the height of the storm, and major media brands such as Time  curating an Instagram slideshow from photographers witnessing the storm. The Wall Street Journal created a live stream of Sandy coverage, including compilations of tweets, photos, slideshows, blogs and wire and staff reports.

While the personal toll due to Hurricane Sandy is tremendous, the actual business disruption caused in the media world was temporary. However, it was a clear reminder that top executives need to have a plan for an outage that doesn’t last just a few days, but an extended duration.

From the C-level, how do you operate—not simply for an outage of a few days but extended duration? A few years ago as executive editor of Folio: Magazine, I did a story on Renaissance Publishing, a regional magazine publisher that was facing permanent shutdown in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, until three employees bought the assets and tried to bring it back (Renaissance is still in business today with flagship New Orleans Magazine, as well as a distinctly more digital portfolio, including myneworleans.com.)

Renaissance Co-Owner Alan Campbell offered a series of tips on disaster planning for media companies. “The whole insurance coverage was a mystery and frankly, it still is,” Campbell told me at the time. “We had a $200,000 business interruption insurance policy but the way they calculated it, we only collected $150,000. We didn’t event get $100,000 of it until more than a year after the hurricane. If you think a Business Interruption Policy is going to keep you going, forget it.”

An emergency plan is more than backing up your network or moving to the cloud. Below are some bullet points that Campbell has shared on how publishers can prepare.

  • Understand your insurance coverage. Business Interruption Insurance is generally triggered by a covered loss—and flood loss may not apply.
  • Business Interruption Insurance generally covers lost profits and additional expenses incurred. You can purchase a Rider to cover losses related to losing customers to a disaster. You may need to cover employee salary continuation.
  • Establish a cash reserve. Bank lines may not be available.
  • Be prepared to deal with significant emotional issues for you as an owner/publisher and your employees. There will be an enormous sense of loss, fear of the unknown and lack of information.
  • Assume you have no ability to reach anyone through normal channels. Establish an emergency contact e-mail separate from your e-mail server. Consider third-party hosting of your e-mail server outside the region.
  • Secure emergency cell phone service for key executives with out-of-the-region area codes.
  • Establish procedures for employees to contact you using these emergency numbers and e-mail addresses.
  • Engage an in-house IT specialist or specific individual familiar with your systems. Make sure that person is capable of providing remote assistance in an emergency.

 By Matt Kinsman

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