Saturday, November 10, 2012

Storm Related Lessons

Super-storm Sandy hit the NY metro region 2 weeks ago.   For only a few has life returned to normal.  The area has been very hard hit.  Entire neighborhoods have been decimated by flood.  Other large swaths of residential areas remain without any functioning power grid.  To make matters worse, gas shortages add stress to an already stressed out community.  So what can we learn from this horrible event from the perspective of a small business or medical practice?

Lesson 1: You are only as strong as your community.

A practice's vitality is dependent on the vitality of its community.  You may have the best back-up and disaster recovery plans, but if your community gets destroyed so will your ability to remain viable. This is not to suggest you don't need to focus on data back-up and recovery, redundancy for communications, and proper insurance coverage.  You must have these things, but even with them, your practice is at risk when the community in which it serves is at risk.  I-witness accounts abound that detail businesses that survived intact physically only to lose their customer base.  I have been told of destroyed pediatric and dental practices.  My friend, a chiropractor, has seen a 90% drop in volume to his office.

Tough times indeed.

Lesson 2:  Prepare for both the downturn and the eventual recovery.

Gas shortages remain, though with odd-even rationing things seem to be improving.  Personally I have had an serious increase in cancelations from patients claiming they don't have enough gas to get here.  I, myself, have curtailed my own driving for the very same reason.  Multiply that by thousands if not millions of people and you get a major economic hit.  For many, there may be no recovery.  So what I learned is to always be able to expand hours to accommodate demand that ultimately will come.  When all the doom and gloom dissipates, I expect a major upswing in patients and I plan to fully accommodate them with evening, early morning, & weekend hours, including sundays if need be.

Lesson 3: Geographically spread out your operations so a natural disaster does not affect everything at once.

Internet connections and VOIP remain down for millions.  Those with cable internet have been affected most, since cable lines tend to follow the power lines and got tangled up in fallen trees and branches.  At my home, I have not yet had cable internet restored.  I do have internet in my office and this returned as soon as the power.  However, most of the tenants in my building were not so lucky.  Cable internet was not restored for another day or so.  Fiber optic lines, which run underground, were never affected.  Since I have both cable and fiber optic (redundancy), I was operational as soon as power was restored.  Had the building had a back-up generator, I would have remained operational throughout the storm.  Of course, how many people need to see a urologist during a 100-year storm?  You'd be surprised.  Even during the height of the storm, I got phone calls.  Since my answering service was based on other part of the country, they were unaffected and continued to serve the practice.

Lesson 4:  Insurance matters 

Never skimp on insurance coverage.  In the wake of this storm, one can see the importance of having a broad range of insurance products.  Go through the scenario of what just happened, not just to you but to the region, and see if you are adequately protected.  Do you have flood insurance?  How about data loss insurance?  Business interruption insurance?  Fire?  Office liability insurance?  Talk to your professional.

All in all the storm and its aftermath has shown to me that I live in a very good community.  People have really come together to help each other.  People who can give aid have done so.  A local restaurant let patrons eat even if they did not have cash.  He was serving his people and knew he would get paid eventually.

Good luck everyone.

The IU.