It's an unfortunate matter, of course, that the most stirring reminders about the importance of planning for disaster recovery arrive in the form of tragedy.

This week, as if anyone needed a visual cue for the importance of planning for disaster, Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans and many of the Gulf Coast states with wind speeds of 175 miles an hour and a Category 5 storm designation.

Right now, most of the stories coming out of the hurricane's wake center on death tolls and property damage, with sidebars about lost casino revenues and the rising cost of oil. According to risk modeling firm EQECAT Inc., preliminary estimates of insured losses could range from $15 billion to more than $30 billion along the Gulf Coast. Before moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katrina struck the southern Florida peninsula as a Category 1 storm. Estimated insured losses from that landfall range from a tidy $1 billion to $2 billion.

Reading one family's account of keeping their grandmother afloat on a mattress for hours while waiting for aid, it's maybe no surprise that the more mundane details of the trials of a small business owner have yet to hit the presses or see the light of a TV news camera. But there's no doubt that somewhere among the people waiting for water surges as high as 20 feet to recede, wading through the debris of their home and work, there are a number of businesspeople kicking themselves, knowing they could and should have been better prepared.

A good place to start planning is at the disaster recovery section of the Small Business Administration's Web site (www.sba.gov/disaster_recov). A simple Internet search turns up a number of sites offering sample recovery and continuity plans, and a search right here on WebCPA for "disaster recovery" pulls up a number of helpful articles outlining options for protecting electronic data and other assets.

Years ago, a salesman hawking his company's disaster-recovery consulting services came to meet with the owner of the small business where I was working. Leading the salesman around the office, I heard my boss confidently pointing out the company's fire-exit maps, first-aid kits and an insulated room containing back-up servers for the computer network.

Nodding his head along in agreement for most of the tour, the salesman stopped, and I overheard him asking my boss to imagine "it all being gone." Confused, my boss asked if he was talking about the back-up server.

"No," the salesman said. "Not just the server or the computers. Imagine the whole building is gone. How are you going to get this operation running again and getting as much of the work that was being done here moving forward again?"

Thinking about that kind of scenario is the first step in planning. And while I doubt my old boss was ever willing to lay down the money to plan for the worst, it wasn't even a week ago the bar owners and traders of tourism along Bourbon Street were dismissively saying the worst of Katrina would befall Miami, not them.

While the exact types of disasters may vary, and while the stages of renewal often come in small degrees, the end goal of disaster recovery is always the same. Normalcy is still a long way off for the south, but as residents begin putting their lives back together, the rest of the country should be thankful they only had to endure Katrina's reminder, and not her devastation.

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