Disaster Recovery 101

In the aftermath of a disaster, business owners are understandably laser focused on one thing: getting back to normal. Unfortunately, few business owners know the best way to make that happen, and the restoration and recovery process can take more than time; it can also take a toll on your patience and your finances. While the guidance and expertise of professional restoration companies can be beneficial – and often essential – the recovery journey is typically paved with challenges.

With that in mind, an understanding of the basic dynamics of the commercial restoration process can be extremely helpful. Taking a behind-the-scenes look at exactly what is involved in planning and executing restoration and recovery work can give business owners, facility managers, and other decision-makers who have suffered a loss a better feel for timelines and tactics. Gaining a better understanding of this process may even help them to identify a restoration company with the assets and experience to help them get back up and running as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Planning and Priorities
Restoration companies in high demand have the ability – as well as a demonstrated track record – to deliver rapid 24/7 response. Businesses that have experienced a loss do not want to wait. They are aware that time is money, and they want to begin the restoration and recovery process as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The best and most effective restoration professionals will move quickly to align the proposed restoration strategy with the professional priorities of the business and its leaders. Specific restoration priorities may be quite different from one recovery to the next, depending on the individual needs and preferences of the business, the nature of the disaster, and the extent and type of losses that have occurred.

In some instances, finding a way to keep the business (or some part of the business) up and running to maintain a positive cash flow and preserve business relationships is the primary focus. Others might be focused on returning to full operation as quickly as possible, regardless of the short-term implications for profits and personnel. Team member retention is a priority for certain types of businesses, where the possibility of an extended shutdown results in the loss of employees and the high costs of additional rehiring and retraining.

Asked and Answered
The best way to make sure the alignment outlined above takes place is to ask questions. Business owners and facility decision-makers should be prepared for qualified restoration professionals to spend time early in the process asking a long list of detailed and specific questions. Those questions can and do cover everything from the nature and extent of the loss to details about business impact, operational continuity, and management/ownership priorities. The best restoration professionals know how to find innovative ways for businesses to stay open, sometimes designing a custom recovery strategy to expedite the cleanup and restoration process with minimal business impact.

Business owners should find restoration companies with a reputation for flexibility and responsive service, preferably with a demonstrated history of implementing recovery strategies sensitive to operational, logistical, and financial priorities and preferences of businesses who have suffered a loss. Understand also that communication should go both ways. The wake of a disaster can be a confusing and traumatic time, and facility managers and business owners are almost certain to have many questions of their own. The more they can be heard and involved in the restoration process, the better. They know their facility and their business better than anyone, and their insights can often contribute to a shorter and more efficient recovery.

Complexities and Considerations
While every disaster is different, and different circumstances require unique restoration and recovery strategies, there are several common issues that make a recovery costlier and more time consuming. Restaurants and dining facilities may have health department concerns and liquor licensing to consider. In the manufacturing and industrial space, large, sophisticated, and expensive equipment must often be entirely broken down into constituent parts and comprehensively cleaned to comply with certification or regulatory guidelines. There are rarely any shortcuts around this process, which can be enormously labor-intensive and time-consuming.

Complexities can multiply in a mixed-use setting, where the presence of multifamily units can make coordination challenges exponentially more difficult. In addition to consulting with property and business owners, restoration professionals oftentimes coordinate with and account for the needs of individual tenants­/homeowners. Buildings and businesses with different owners and/or insurers can also present logistical and communication challenges.

Resources and Relationships
Because the personnel and logistical requirements can vary quite dramatically from one disaster to the next – depending on the size of the facility, the nature of the disaster, the extent and severity of the damage, the type of business, etc. – and because demand for recovery and restoration services can often spike in the wake of a regional disaster, the best restoration companies are structured to respond to demand variability. Strong preexisting trade partnerships are often a key piece of that variable demand puzzle. Make sure your restoration partner has reliable resources and trusted relationships in place to handle the demands of the restoration challenges in front of them. For example, a recent Michigan industrial fire that generated a great deal of soot required a large team (between 60 and 70 trained personnel) working almost around the clock for several days to clean impacted equipment before normal operations could resume.

Tactics and Triage
A truly devastating regional disaster can pose a unique challenge for even the most capable and experienced restoration companies. Prioritizing resources and response tactics based on severity and urgency is essential, requiring not only flexibility, but advanced coordination and communication – between restoration team members, and between restoration professionals and businesses who have suffered a loss.

The best providers utilize full-time in-house communications personnel, who are trained to communicate with clients to ensure the right questions are asked and to optimize the subsequent response. Ideally, an individual project manager will be assigned to serve as a single point of contact to help streamline communications and avoid potentially costly misunderstandings. That same individual should also oversee the overall restoration and recovery process, devising the right schedule, selecting the most effective strategy, coordinating with insurance companies and other third parties, and ultimately seeing the restoration process through to a successful conclusion.

New tech tools make this coordination process better than ever, with systems and software to automatically save and file all communications and documentation digitally. That data, sorted and searchable by job number, is accessible via a mobile platform remotely accessible by restoration professionals. The holistic and real-time nature of this database makes logistics and coordination easier and allows restoration professionals to provide clients and professional partners with detailed and accurate information about everything from tactics to timelines.

Preparation and Preparedness
The unfortunate reality is few business owners and operators are prepared for a disaster, which is why decision-makers would be smart to do what they can to plan and prepare for a disaster before it takes place. To facilitate that process, it makes sense to coordinate with a restoration company or other resource offering emergency preparation programs and services. Those services should include a comprehensive review of the facility and all vulnerable infrastructure, with a focus on identifying all critical systems, including water and mechanical shutoffs. Restoration experts can help design a customized emergency response plan to ensure the appropriate response in the event of an emergency situation (what do first, who to call, etc.). While true disasters are low frequency events, the relatively modest investment of preparation and planning – and the potentially significant savings that accrue from minimizing damage and downtime – makes this a smart way to protect your business.

Jeff Katkowsky is President and Chief Operating Officer at Zolman Restoration; and Shaun Quinn is Vice President of Claims and Business development. Zolman Restoration is a full-service restoration company specializing in fire, smoke, water, mold and storm restoration services to commercial and residential properties.

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