Loss of or Damage to Physical Assets

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An organization is vulnerable to more than just loss of revenue. Office space can be damaged due to a storm or fire. Equipment can be stolen. Key program spaces can become foreclosed or prohibitively expensive. Even if these assets are amply insured, making claims can lead to increased premiums and may take considerable time to settle. Protecting physical assets and determining how services can be continued or quickly resumed if they are lost or damaged is therefore a vital part of any crisis management plan.

There are several elements of the crisis management plan related to protecting physical assets.

As an organization you must try to prevent the loss of key physical assets and to work to recover from the loss of these assets. To do this, the crisis management team should take the following steps:

  • Make a list of items that the organization would have a difficult time operating without. This could include office space, office equipment, computers, contact directories, account numbers, and important documents.
  • Digitize and duplicate documents, titles, licenses, and directories. Physical copies should also be made and stored in an off-site location in case a natural disaster makes Internet access unavailable. This should absolutely include an up-to-date directory of contact information for all staff members, board members, and key volunteers, as well as for accountants, insurance agents, banks, and creditors.
  • Maintain an up-to-date list of all equipment, including serial numbers and cost. This should also be duplicated and backed up, as it will prove very useful if it becomes necessary to make an insurance claim.
  • While data and documents can be copied and backed up, it is harder to replace office space. The crisis plan should include a list of potential recovery locations should office or program space become unavailable. These could include a staff member's home or locations that can be temporarily rented, such as hotels or conference space. Consider forming mutual support agreements with other nonprofits in the area. These agreements can allow for space sharing, which will enable both groups to continue at least limited operations until a permanent solution can be found. Think about this before you need to minimize disruption in the event of a severe crisis. 
Click to open interactivity Electronic data plays a vital role in crisis management.

Electronic data plays a vital role in crisis management.

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The loss or damage of a physical asset requires immediate response.

It is far more likely that your organization will face fraud or theft than a natural disaster – so it's perhaps more critical to take steps to minimize the risk of fraud and theft.  Consider the following steps:

  • Limit access to valuable resources. Only necessary staff members should have access to supplies and merchandise.
  • Limit authority to sign the organization's checks or access bank accounts.
  • Protect confidential donor information such as credit card numbers. The theft of this information can have devastating consequences, as donor confidence will be greatly undermined and the organization's reputation may be irreparably damaged. Sensitive information like this should always be stored on a secure server and be password-protected.

No matter how well you have prepared for the possibility, coping with the loss or damage of a major physical asset such as office space or computer systems will require quick, focused, swift action to minimize impact. 

Be prepared to do the following:

  • Contact the police.
  • Inform your insurance agent – let him/her know as soon as you have discovered the loss.  Make sure you know what information needs to be provided before making a claim.
  • Communicate clearly and repeatedly to staff, volunteers, donors and stakeholders about how the loss will affect them. 
  •  If the theft was of data rather than equipment, any clients, donors, or staff whose information may have been compromised must be informed immediately.

If your office space is unavailable, consult your list of recovery sites.

In a situation where an organization's office or program space becomes unavailable, the organization should consult its list of potential recovery sites and establish which one is the most appropriate. In the case of a large-scale disaster, not all sites will be available. The crisis team should examine factors such as accessibility to clients, available space, cost, and time involved in making arrangements to use the location. Consider whether you will be able to return to your previous office or program space and how long it might take to do so. Which of your recovery locations would be available for that much time?

After a recovery location has been selected:

  • Relocate undamaged equipment.
  • Replace damaged equipment that is necessary to resuming operations. Consider leasing or borrowing equipment if possible.
  • The team should develop and implement a communications plan to inform staff, volunteers, clients, and vendors about the new location.
  • If services will not be immediately resumed, make sure that this information is disseminated through the media, a phone tree, and/or a website.
  • Arrange for call forwarding to the new site.
  • Be sure to maintain payroll.
  • If the relocation is required because of damage to office space or equipment, be sure to contact your insurer and inform them of the situation.
  • Recover critical documents, digital files, and contact information and make sure to bring them with you to the recovery location.

When the loss of office space is due to a large-scale natural disaster, a few additional steps will need to be taken:

  • Reassess the level of need for your services. Times of disaster can radically shift the priority needs of clients.  Consider a temporary shift in activities or a break from operating.
  • Determine if any key suppliers are still operational. If not, find alternate suppliers for necessary materials.
  • Determine if staff requires transportation to your location.
  • Determine if staff needs emergency housing.
Click to open interactivity The U.S. Small Business Association provides disaster assistance for all types of organizations.

The U.S. Small Business Association provides disaster assistance for all types of organizations.

Click here to visit the U.S Small Business Administration's disaster assistance fact sheet.

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