November 01, 2013

Disaster Planning and the Role of Lawyers U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York

By Chief Judge Cecelia G. Morris and Vito Genna

Most organizations do their best to plan for a disaster. Unfortunately, no matter how well thought out a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) may be on paper, in the wake of an emergency event, most businesses are left with the feeling that they could have done more. The Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York is no exception. It is unusual in most COOP situations for organizations to get any advance notice regarding impending disaster events. It is even less likely organizations are able to make suitable preparations. In the case of Hurricane Sandy, one of the most destructive and deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, the Northeast was forewarned of the impending storm. Many thought they knew what to expect and, as a result, created comprehensive disaster plans on both business and federal levels to effectively manage the aftermath of a category-three storm. Surviving Hurricane Irene one year earlier, with its strong wind gusts and heavy rains, left residents of the city with a false sense of security that Sandy, like Irene, would be managed with only minimal collateral damage. The city and its residents felt confident that they knew what to expect. Like most businesses, the Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York updated its COOP and gathered their staff to discuss contingency plans created to keep the court operational. What they couldn’t have anticipated was the catastrophic damage the hurricane would leave in its wake. Flooded subways, power outages, damaged cell towers, impassable streets, and destroyed homes and properties were only a few of the casualties of a storm that left the city’s infrastructure functioning at a minimum or no service for weeks and months afterward. What it taught the residents of New York City and beyond is that disaster preparation is a continual process, always in flux, and requires constant diligence to keep plans relevant and reactionary.

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