Disasters Require Preparing for the Worst

For a business owner, responding to a disaster — be it natural or man made — begins with careful preparation long before the calamity ever strikes.

Having a detailed disaster preparedness plan to implement when called for can mean the difference between getting a business running again quickly or rendered entirely ineffective for an extended period. Or even worse.

Security contractors, by virtue of the profound life safety mission they serve, especially need to ensure operational viability for the sake of their clientele’s welfare as well as their own.

For Spencer Smith, proprietor of Alarm Protection Services (APS) in Metairie, La., gaining the know-how to carry on successfully in the face of great adversity wrought by hurricanes has been a hard fought battle. The disaster preparedness methods his company applies today were developed and honed in the wake of no less than Hurricane Katrina and other tempests before it and after.

Drafted through dogged research and learning by trial and error, APS’ disaster plan is but one shining example that other installation/monitoring companies can use as a guidepost when devising their own recovery measures in response to critical events of all sorts.

Initial Disaster Plan Badly Exposed

At the First Alert Professional Convention held last November in Orlando, Fla., Smith and a couple of his Gulf Coast-based security dealer brethren were asked to take part in an educational panel on how to prepare for and recover from a major disaster.

Moderated by Honeywell District Manager Brett Guillotte, the panelists called upon firsthand experience of remaining operational in the face of massive storms and destruction. To illustrate the appropriate contents of a general disaster recovery plan, Guillotte utilized Smith’s own company document — an inches-thick three-ring binder — as the course syllabus.

“The entire presentation was made so simple because of the guide that Spencer has put together,” Guillotte says. “We felt a lot of the preparation and recovery information was good for many situations, whether it’s a tornado, a flood, a fire, a terrorist attack, a whole range of disasters.”

Located near New Orleans, APS is a full-service provider of commercial and residential security and A/V services. The company also operates its own central station where it monitors more than 7,000 accounts. Smith’s formal disaster recovery planning began to take shape in earnest in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. However, after Katrina laid waste to the Gulf Coast the following year, Smith immediately recognized much more preparation was yet to be completed.

“I don’t know that you can really prepare for Katrina, but [the recovery plan] didn’t work,” he says. Smith describes “running for the hills at the last minute” with a server and a few other pieces of office equipment. The idea was for APS to set up shop in the conference room of a partner security company 130 miles to the west in Lafayette. From there APS would attempt to service its customers the best it could.

“Well, we found out that really isn’t reality,” Smith says. After making its retreat, APS did operate out of Acadiana Security Plus for the next two weeks before moving into an office site Smith owned in Lafayette. With his Metairie headquarters completely devastated, the company found itself without much of what it needed to operate smoothly. Smith vowed never to be caught off guard again without a more detailed disaster plan.

“It might all look great on paper, but when it comes time to implement it — as we found out — it can all fall apart,” he says.

Go Digital With Diligent Scanning

A fundamental component of any disaster plan is to ensure the company’s data and information systems survive the calamity. This is accomplished by instituting measures such as backing up data and files regularly, storing data offsite, and having the ability to host the business’ Web site remotely as well.

APS scans all of its documents and places the electronic versions on its local network for easy accessibility and safekeeping. Hard copies are filed and secured, but not often retrieved.

“If an employee needs to look at a customer’s file, it is on the network,” Smith says. “There is no reason to go to that hard copy file.”

APS is by and large paperless. Virtually all interoffice document correspondence is accomplished via E-mail. There is also a strict rule that no paperwork is allowed to be left on desktops where it could potentially vanish — as it did during Katrina’s wrath.

“We lost a lot of money because we lost a lot of our documents, the ones that were on the desks,” Smith says. Documentation for jobs in progress, billing that was never completed, and other critical paperwork that was destroyed Smith guesstimates cost his company upward of $50,000.

“When I was in Lafayette during Katrina, all of my paperwork was back in my main office. I didn’t have any of it,” Smith says. “Scanning gives you the sense of security that if you lose everything, you can still maintain your business. You can set up and start operating very easily from any other site.”

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About the Author


Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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