By Sheryl Nance-Nash
Although Hurricane Sandy has yet to make landfall, her effects are being felt among small and big accounting firms in the Northeast as they swing full throttle into disaster-prep mode.
Last week, all employees were asked to start reviewing the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Communications plans, says Thomas Hunter, chief security officer for Grant Thornton, which is based in Chicago but has offices in New York and several Northeastern cities. All personnel, domestic and international, were asked to monitor travel plans, especially if they included areas within the storm zones in the Northeast United States. All offices reviewed their plans and tested their communication processes, Hunter says.
As the storm moved toward the United States, there were discussions between staff and clients to determine how work could proceed, either through virtual means or postponing meetings as necessary based on clients' requirements. Offices in the Northeast monitored local news and events to determine when and if offices would be closed. Closure of public transportation was among the considerations in making decisions, says Hunter, who adds that some offices have been proactive and allowed personnel to work virtually since this morning.
What would be an absolute nightmare? "Lack of communications. We are confident we have redundant practices and resources to make total lack of communication with our personnel and officers unlikely", says Hunter.
At Gassman & Golodny, a fourteen-employee boutique tax and accounting firm in New York City, all was quiet, with partner Jonathan Gassman working from home. "We notified all staff to stay home and play it safe. We asked them to work remotely and stay in communication with the team and partners", says Gassman. Staff shared with clients that the best way to get in touch with them during the storm was by e-mail and cell phone; they assured clients they would be checking e-mail periodically.
As early as Friday, Gassman & Golodny began making preparations. The firm conducted a controlled shutdown of its internal network to eliminate the risk of damage to servers from a sudden shutdown. "We removed everything from the window ledges and secured it in a better place", says Gassman. The firm also used social media to alert those that subscribe to what is going on with the firm.
Other than a partner having to change travel plans and leave early for a trip to Europe, the Metis Group, a ninety-employee accounting firm with offices in New York City, Boston, Long Island, and other areas in Sandy's path, has hardly skipped a beat so far. "We sent an e-mail blast telling staff we were closing until further notice", says Glenn Friedman, managing partner.
The firm has an off-site duplication of its extensive computer system so people can access information seamlessly. Two years ago, the firm updated its system. "Our main office is located at 34th Street, Penn Station in New York City. We know that there is the possibility of something happening there that could disrupt our business, so we made changes in order to ensure that we can always keep working."
Marcum, LLP, a New York-based accounting firm with offices in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and around the world, began its IT emergency preparation on Friday. Teams were on-site over the weekend, and remote access to the network was set up for employees to be able to work from home. Emergency phone numbers also were set up for employees to call for updates, in the event they lose power and cannot access e-mail. The firm's New York City, Connecticut, Boston, Melville, New Jersey, and Philadelphia offices closed Monday at 12:30 p.m. News about reopening will be sent via e-mail and posted on the emergency phone numbers, says spokesperson Julie Gross Gelfand.
Katie Lamkin, national human resources leader for McGladrey, says",With 6,500 employees in seventy-five offices across the nation, all of our employees will not likely be impacted to the same degree by the storm. Since that is the case, our local and regional leaders will make decisions regarding potential changes in work schedules, locations, and travel for our employees to help ensure their safety. At this point, we have already closed multiple offices in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and DC. Some employees in our Boston office are working from home."
"We advise our clients to ensure they have backups of all their critical legal and financial documents in a separate physical location. Redundancy is one of the best ways to ensure that they don't lose important information."
Accounting firms are doing their best to weather the initial stages of the storm. What advice are they giving their clients about their documents and other assets? Says Friedman",Everybody ought to be paperless, exist in the Cloud, and have backup."