Law Practice Division

Disaster Resources

Resources to prepare for and recover from disasters both natural and man-made.

In light of the disasters caused by recent hurricanes, along with various other natural disasters, we have seen many lawyers and law firms severely impacted – some law firms have been destroyed by these disasters. Below you will find tips for planning for a disaster and tips for disaster recovery, with more resources to follow. If you have real-life stories to share, or tips to add, please send them to Sharon Nelson at snelson@senseient.com or Jim Calloway at jimc@okbar.org.  Updates to this page will be communicated through LP publications and social media. Help us spread the word – especially to lawyers who may have been affected by these disasters.

ABA Formal Opinion 482: Ethical Obligations Related to Disasters

Gift Card Donations to be Collected for #Hurricane #Florence Victims | Get more information here: #LSBA @LouisianaBar 

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Do you want to help? The ABA Fund for Justice and Education has announced that an anonymous individual donor has pledged $100,000 to increase pro bono legal services available to disaster survivors across the country.  Help match this generous donation to raise the initial $200,000 needed to recruit and train more pro bono attorneys to meet the overwhelming legal needs of survivors. You can donate by clicking here.

Disaster Preparation Tips

By Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway

With so many recent disasters and perhaps more ahead, the ABA Law Practice Division advises you to do some planning now.

Have a Disaster Recovery Plan which you review annually. Define who is responsible for what. It should be electronic and in the cloud as well as on paper. Several trusted members of the firm should also keep a paper copy at home.

Communications are always the number one problem. An emergency contact list should be in writing and in the cloud where it can be accessed via a computer or a phone.

In case of flooding or mass destruction, it is best to have a backup in the cloud. Test your backup regularly to make sure it is working. There are many reputable cloud providers—examples include Mozy, Carbonite, Backblaze, CrashPlan SMB, and Acronis.

If you have case management in the cloud (Clio, Rocket Matter, MyCase etc.) you will be back up and running more quickly. If you are using external hard drives or flash drives, they are most safe in a dishwasher if flooding is anticipated.  You can carry a waterproof flash drive with you in a waterproof bag for extra protection and mobility.

Office 365, the cloud version of Office, will also help with this.

How will you pay your people? It is advisable to have cash available in a waterproof safe. Banks may not be open for a while. Any critical documents such as your insurance policy, articles of incorporation, etc., should also be in that safe.

In case you lose power, consider a generator. Also, make sure phones and laptops are fully charged, with power banks offering you power reserves. If you have small handheld battery chargers for phones, make sure all of those are charged as well.

All important electronic devices such as computers, servers, networking hardware, phone systems, etc. should be kept on Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) devices, which are nothing more than “smart” batteries. This will protect equipment from dirty electricity, surges, and outages, all of which can cause damage to equipment. A battery backup may be able to supply the phone system with enough power during an outage to allow you to continue business operation or communicate with rescue personnel. These battery backup devices will allow computing equipment the chance to shut down properly, which can help to prevent data loss or corruption of files. Software configurations of all networking devices should be backed up and stored in a secure location. In the event that replacement equipment is needed, restoring the configuration of these devices will bring them online faster than configuring them from scratch.

A Dozen Disaster Recovery Tips

By Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway

  1. Immediately after a disaster, there is only one thing that matters: human life. Do whatever you can possibly do to help those in need and to ensure the safety of those who work with and for you. Supply your employees with all the support resources you can.

  2. Establish communications. Hopefully, you have a disaster recovery plan (if not, preparing and adopting a plan should go on your priority list now). Follow the plan, which should include multiple communication options—via e-mail, text, phone calls or a website. Someone should be responsible for tracking information about those who have reported they are safe and reporting those who have not. Consider contracting with a service that automates notifications and responses. Everyone should be reminded of their roles in the disaster recovery. Someone should be contacting local government authorities. You may need to have the post office hold your mail or send it to a different address—assuming mail is being delivered. Your plan should also address who is responsible for contacting FEMA, the courts, and opposing counsel (to reschedule dates as needed), active clients, your insurance company, bank, landlord, and significant vendors, including your payroll service. You will need to ensure that staff and attorneys understand how to fulfill their duties if communications are widely disrupted.

  3. Communicate with your clients. As recent events have shown, this may not be easy. You may not have the ability to call, text, or e-mail. One alternative, since most firms do not host their own website, is to have a temporary home page set up explaining the status of your firm/practice and advising your clients how (or if) they are able to contact you. If your office is unusable, make sure the first person who has access puts up a sign with temporary contact information in large letters on the door or frontage. Do not just tape a piece of paper there. Use nails or even (gulp) spray paint. You may also want to advise clients of how courts are handling delays during the recovery period until communications are restored.

  4. Hopefully, you have your law firm data stored in the cloud. One of the advantages of cloud-based practice management solutions is that you should be able to access your data in the cloud once you have an Internet connection. Needless to say, your “cloud” solution should not be storing your data in your immediate geographic area unless you have a secondary cloud which is well out of harm’s way.

  5. If your e-mail is down, you certainly have a problem. Before the disaster strikes, you should have made sure that you have engaged an e-mail service vendor that “spools” (retains) your e-mail for delivery when you have power or better yet, synchronizes with your mailbox and provides an alternate mail transport mechanism. Such vendors often provide spam filtering, phishing prevention, the ability to send large files, encryption, etc. Spread the word as quickly as possible when the spooled e-mail is released—this is often done best by phone or text since people may not be checking their e-mail regularly if service has been unavailable for any length of time. If you use a service that provides 100% e-mail availability, clients will not even know that your primary e-mail technology was down.

  6. If the disaster lasts for some time, how will you pay your employees? We actually saw airlifts of money during Katrina. Whatever your payment plan, implement it. If your cash flow allows, be generous with modest advances to employees to help them recover.

  7. Make sure your system passwords are stored (encrypted) in the cloud—you may need them as part of the recovery. Get a full report from your IT folks as to what is functional, what is not and the proposed path to getting all systems up and running. Lease or buy any equipment that needs replacement.

  8. If laptops or other mobile devices have been lost in the disaster, remote wipe them to ensure the security of the data. They should all be encrypted as well to minimize unauthorized access.

  9. Post-disaster looting and destruction is a fact of life. If you have an on-premise network and it is not well secured, secure it as soon as possible after the disaster is over. When it is safe to go to your office, take photos or videos of all damage for insurance purposes and remove (if necessary) the waterproof and fireproof safe which holds all your critical documents—which are hopefully replicated and encrypted in the cloud.

  10. If you still have a functional office, share what space you can with other attorneys. If you do not, seek out your colleagues who may have functional offices and ask for help. Alternatively, arrange for leased space. If your losses are great, you may be eligible to file a claim for emergency relief—investigate this avenue as it may be more immediate than any monies you receive from your insurance company.

  11. Accept assistance gratefully. We all like to think of ourselves as independent. We solve problems for others. But there’s no shame in receiving aid. Your bar association will be activating resources to assist you. Accept that bottle of water or a free meal from aid workers if you need it. Ask colleagues if you are in need. Disasters bring out the worst in people, but also the best.

  12. Take care of yourself. Recovery from a disaster is a marathon, not a sprint. Lawyers tend to “overwork” themselves out of difficult situations. Rest and good nutrition are more important now than ever. Disaster brings an enormous amount of stress to you and everyone in the affected community. Be kind and generous. Forgive the inappropriate behavior of others. Hug your family members.

For more resources please see below.

What to Expect from Your Mass Notification System

Technology can help keep people safe, informed and connected during an emergency. Here are 10 characteristics of modern notification systems.

By Brett Andrew, AlertMedia | April 11, 2018 | LegalTech News

Law firms face a significant challenge during critical events: quickly locating their people to keep them safe. Lawyers, and those supporting their activities, typically do not work solely in one location. At any given time, some of them will be working in offices, spread across floors, buildings, cities, and even countries while others will be working from home or visiting a client location. This fluid movement has traditionally challenged how firm leadership connects people with the timely information needed to improve outcomes during emergencies. The evolution of the emergency mass notification market has improved how law firms communicate. Some products focus on speed, accelerating message creation and delivery. Other advancements simplify how company administrators locate people and understand their proximity to danger. As you think about how your firm can use technology to communicate with your people, these must-have elements of a modern mass notification system should be utilized to mitigate loss during any critical event.

Characteristics of Some Modern Systems

Multi-Channel Notification Delivery: Mass notification is no longer represented by a person sending a one-way text blast to an audience. Sure, text messages often rise above the noise of email and phone calls, but during an emergency event, leaders should use every available channel associated with a person—text, phone call, email, social media, mobile app push, intranet, Slack, television screens in the lobby, and any other message destination available to your organization.

Notification Templates: When a critical event strikes, every second counts. Instead of writing a new message, leverage a pre-built template which already includes the message type, which channels will be used for message delivery, the audience you need to reach, and your message. Templates save valuable time and allow leaders to send a message to the appropriate people in just a couple of clicks.

Two-Way Messaging: When an emergency occurs, the people closest to the emergency can often be the ones with the most information. Modern systems offer two-way messaging, allowing the audience to submit content and reply to messages. For a wellness check, send a message with a read confirmation. This type of message requests a person to acknowledge receipt, often by pressing the number one on their phone. When people don’t acknowledge receipt, resend the message across multiple channels until delivery is confirmed. To solicit more specific feedback, send a question to the audience in the form of a survey to assess impact severity, office conditions, and recipient needs.

Event Pages: An event page provides one location for the ongoing management of your event, a place you can distribute status updates, important resources and media, and severity levels. Instead of sending a mass message each time you have an update, use an event page as a place your people can visit to get up to date information and submit messages.

Audience Grouping: Many emergency events only impact a portion of your workforce, and a great mass notification system will help you find the right audience for a message. Most organizations first organize their people based on location. This grouping provides basic filtering for location-based notifications like office closures, inclement weather, and other local emergencies. Given the wide range of potential critical events, organizations also organize their people by department, project team, management level, and other attributes to create dynamic groups. For example, you might send a message to only the employees who are scheduled to be on duty, presently in the Austin office, at manager level or higher.

Native Mobile Applications: Modern mass notification vendors offer native mobile applications for both iOS and Android devices, improving safety communications on multiple fronts. First, mobile applications (apps) allow your people to share their location on an integrated map so you can pinpoint a person’s location relative to any event. Second, mobile apps can be used to push notifications, offering a valuable additional channel for message delivery. Third, mobile apps can be used to deliver real-time updates about weather, traffic, or other information from third party sources. Finally, your people can use the mobile app to send messages to your system administrator, including calls for help, photos, and videos from the frontlines.

Integrated Maps: Your notification system’s integrated map will visually display your people and offices in proximity to the events you’re tracking. When you see inclement weather on the radar, a road closure on the major freeway, or a shooting at a nearby building, you can determine which of your people face danger. Select to see the exact physical location of your incoming messages and communicate directly with your offices and people from the map view.

Geo-Fencing: With a geo-fencing system, draw a virtual fence around a particular area in danger, and alert every employee within that fenced area with targeted messaging. Whether your people are in your office, traveling, or working remote for the day, they will remain informed and alert. And importantly, your communication will only go to employees in harm’s way, not the broader audience.

Smart Integrations: Integrating with existing internal business systems, such as HR systems and employee directories, automates manual entries to save precious time when uploading employees into a system. While this basic integration gives you the foundation for audience grouping, you can also integrate additional data sources to improve targeting capabilities. If you have a large group of traveling employees, sync your organization’s travel data with your notification system to create dynamic groups. For example, if you have ten employees booked at a hotel in London, those employees would be part of a dynamic London group, joining your other employees who live and work in the area.

Curated Event Monitoring: Your mass notification provider should be watching the world around you and your people, delivering real-time updates as nearby events unfold. Subscribe to trusted sources local to your facilities, including local news channels, police departments, weather services, and traffic updates. By leveraging third party event monitoring, your organization will be better equipped to protect your people as you’ll learn about events more quickly. Information protects people during emergency events, and your mass notification provider plays a crucial role in delivering that information in a timely manner. With today’s available features, it’s never been easier to find your people, group them into relevant audiences, and deliver key updates to improve safety outcomes during a crisis.

Brett Andrew is Chief Revenue Officer at AlertMedia, the fastest-growing emergency communication software company, offering intuitive mobile and web applications that help organizations reach any audience, over any communication channel, anywhere in the world. Brett can be reached at brett.andrew@alertmedia.com or
800 826-0777.