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In case of disaster

By David Ward

When Laura Grosso, head of Pennsylvania-based ERSA Court Reporting, turned to cloud solution provider Broadview Networks for business telephone and hosted IT services in mid- 2012, a natural catastrophe was not top of her mind.

“We really went to them because we wanted a virtual office so that we could do our work from homes,” explained Grosso, whose firm has offices in both Philadelphia and Allentown, Pa., and works with about 80 independent reporters. “With Broadview’s technology, we knew that not only would we have our phones, but we would be able to work remotely on our computers as well.”

However, when Hurricane Sandy swept through the Northeast United States in late October 2012, Grosso discovered that Broadview’s services also ended up playing a key role in preventing this natural disaster from decimating her business.

“Our court reporters weren’t operating remotely, but during the storm, we were able to run our office remotely,” Grosso notes. “And while we did have a few depositions cancelled as a result of the storm, the key for us was being able to stay in touch with our court reporters and not leave them out on a limb. We had one client who told us that a state trooper was going to be coming in for a deposition. I didn’t necessarily believe it, but with Broadview, we were able to keep in contact with the client and the reporter in case he was needed.”

Brian Crotty, chief operating officer for Broadview, stresses that what his company provides ERSA, as well as a host of other professional services companies, is a lot more than just disaster recovery. “That seems to imply recovery from something that’s gone wrong,” he says. “We focus more on developing business continuity plans with the goal of disaster avoidance.”

In ERSA’s case, Broadview implemented a hosted IT solution to improve the way the reporters did their business. “Obviously, they didn’t have the foresight to know that the largest hurricane in the history of the northeast was about to hit,” Crotty explains. “But they had other challenges they were facing with their existing services.”

During Sandy’s peak, ERSA’s business was closed, and they had no connectivity and no power. “But working from home, they were able to make phone calls and receive phone calls, actually driving business and generating new business,” Crotty says. “And even though they were working from home, their customers were none the wiser.”

Fortunately for ERSA, neither of its offices was damaged in the storm, and the reporters were able to get back to business as usual within days. “For us, it was all about preparedness and knowing what the customer is going to need. I’m very well protected, and I’m very proud of the fact that my IT team takes very good care of me, and Broadview takes very good care of me,” said Grosso.

For many small businesses, a disaster can end up being the end of their operations or the beginning of the end. According to statistics from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and of those that do reopen, 25 percent fail within one year.

The businesses that do manage to survive a disaster, natural or otherwise, are often the ones that have taken the time to think about what could happen. That doesn’t necessarily mean spending vast amounts of resources on additional servers or technology or insurance, but, as Grosso notes, it does require some form of planning. “You have to think of what might be the next thing to come down the pike,” she says.

Because they’re usually in charge of potentially sensitive testimony as well as other important legal information, court reporting firms often have to do a lot more than keep the lights on and phones working when a disaster strikes.

Jason Primuth, executive vice president with NexGen Reporting, which has offices both on the East and West Coasts, points out that for any reporting firm, priorities one, two, and three in any disaster have to be about protecting their client’s information and data, including transcripts and CAT files.

“The first step is making sure your data is stored in a secure off-site third-party location,” Primuth says. “Every single day, we back up all our data, so if all of our offices fall into the ocean, we would be fine.”

Primuth says NexGen does have a business continuity plan in place, but concedes, “There are challenges that can be planned for and there are challenges and disasters that you can’t plan for. I don’t think attorneys will expect you to be present and working on Armageddon Day. So we plan for the things that could happen, like a snowstorm, where no one could get to the office. We can handle that just fine because we have secure remote access to our office computers.”

When it comes to business disasters, it’s often natural catastrophes that come to mind: earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, fires, or tornadoes.

But Diana Karge, president of Amicus Court Reporters in Chicago, points out there are many types of disasters, including problems that you may never anticipate.

“We had a situation in which a reporter got into a serious car accident, and not only was he badly injured, but his equipment was badly damaged as well, to the point where we were not sure we could access it,” Karge explains. “That led to a change in our policy of how we back up data. As a reporting firm, there are specific things we have to look out for because our reporters on the job are carrying information that we’re dependent upon, and that is vital to our clients.”

Karge says that following that reporter injury — as well as a previous incident in which a fire damaged the files of a law firm that was a key client — she decided to get proactive when it came to disaster-proofing her business.

“It’s very important to educate your reporters on how important it is to have backup copies of their information, as well as how they access that information to produce jobs,” Karge says. “So after that incident, we created an emergency form for our reporters to fill out. We do not ask them to share sensitive information with us, but we do ask them to tell us how and where they back up, and we ask them to partner with other reporters and provide them with passwords so we can access not just their work, but also their dictionary in case something happens to them.”

Karge now speaks on the issue of disaster proofing a court reporting firm, giving presentations across the country to groups such as the Deposition Reporters Association of California.
During these presentations, Karge says she focuses on a variety of issues, including keeping up-to-date contact information on landlords/building owners, bankers, and the companies that supply paper to the office.

But the bulk of her presentation is focused on the importance of data protection from the moment a reporter ends a deposition. “I’ve heard anecdotally of reporters having their machines stolen out of the backs of their cars or damaged in an accident,” Karge explains. “So if everything is on your machine when you walk out of that job, you’re very vulnerable. We encourage our reporters to back up right after the deposition by emailing their work to themselves immediately as well as any of their raw files.”

Firm owner Rosalie Kramm, RPR, CRR, based in San Diego, Calif., says she began developing a business continuity plan a decade ago after attending some business classes, in which other small business owners — none of whom were in court reporting or legal services — all stressed the importance of disaster preparedness for their companies.

Kramm Court Reporting was founded in 1985 and is now housed in a building, which Kramm owns, that is designed to sway, but not crumble, in the event of an earthquake.

Kramm notes that, for the most part, a disaster-proofed business continuity plan does not require a huge investment. “You just have to put some time into creating a plan and then making sure your staff buys into it and is thinking about it and is conscious of the issue,” she says. “I put my first business continuity plan together 10 years ago, and that document has changed over the years as technology had evolved, such as moving our storage to the cloud.”

Even in this electronic era, Kramm says her business continuity plan does mandate keeping paper copies of some key information, just in case the power goes out. “Every day, we print our Future calendar, so we have a printed copy of that — and I do have a list of passwords related to our office that I print out every Friday and bring home,” she says.

When it comes to protecting client data, Kramm notes that most independent reporters are very professional and therefore very conscientious about preserving their work. “But we do have some policies in place, and one of the things we do is if something is not written up, we ask our reporters to send us their notes and the CAT file to our server,” she says. “Most of them are so grateful to have another backup.” She added that during regular meetings with her staff and freelancers, the reporters often take great pride in describing the lengths they go to to protect their work.

“What a lot of reporters do is take the job and their notes and, right after deposition, transfer them to a thumb drive, and then put that thumb drive in their purse or pockets — or one of them wears it around her neck,” Kramm says. “Every day, all of their jobs are backed up on this thumb drive before they shut down their computers. Another reporter will not leave her machine out of her sight, even in restaurants.”

Crotty of Broadview points out that while events such as Hurricane Sandy are often the catalyst that gets businesses thinking more about disaster avoidance and the need for business continuity plans, his pitch to companies large and small is that many of the moves that will protect them in a natural catastrophe will also help run their day-to-day business a lot more efficiently.

“Every business today is moving beyond 9-5, and by going to cloud-based solutions, you’re actually able to increase the throughput you’re getting from employees, because now they’re always available,” Crotty says. “We also spend a lot of time educating businesses about the security aspect of our offering and showing them how their business is infinitely more secure with our solution than they are with their existing facilities.”

Karge adds that having the right business continuity plan and the expertise to talk confidently about data protection can also be a great selling point for a court reporting firm.

“For us, it’s been a gateway to getting new clients,” Karge says. “But even if you’re a small reporting firm, it’s important to have a plan in place so you can show that you’re respectful of your clients and your clients’ need to protect their information.”

David Ward is a freelance journalist from Ramona, Calif.