Helping firms prepare for any kind of disaster

With employees and customers at stake, businesses have to be ready for anything, from hurricanes to power outages.

So Bob Boyd and his team at Charlotte-based Agility Recovery Solutions helps their 3,000 subscriber businesses develop plans to handle every type of disaster before it happens – and put those plans into place once it does.

Boyd said Agility has worked with everyone from food distributors to credit unions facing everything from server failures to flooded offices.

The company's ability to bail businesses out when times get rough have been tested by Hurricane Katrina and, most recently, by this summer's flooding in the Midwest.

Boyd said Agility has increased its client list by about 125 percent a year since its 2001 start.

Here, he talks about how disaster planning works for businesses. Comments are edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What kind of companies do you most often work with?

You name it, we've written it – we've really worked with companies across the board. But the largest companies, they already have very complex disaster recovery programs and, in some cases, they don't have the same risk.

With a large chain, something goes wrong at one location, you can go to another one. But with small businesses, that's not an option. Most of our customers have one to five locations with 25 to 200 employees at those locations.

We went to the insurance world, the banking world and the CPA (certified public accounting) world to start off with. With insurance they already understand risk, so we figured they would be more apt to buy.

Every small business goes to their insurance agency, goes to their banks, their CPAs – now, when they go there, they're going to hear our name.

Q: What was the largest disaster that your company has worked with?

Hurricane Katrina, just in terms of scale and scope. The entire landscape and all of the basic infrastructure was destroyed. We had 50 members in the direct path and 25 recoveries that were made.

The floods in the Midwest had the potential to rival that; had the levies downstream broken, a number of other places would have flooded. We were lucky to only have to make four recoveries out of 100 members.

Q: What is the first issue to be addressed when dealing with a disaster?

Planning. It's hard to address a disaster if you don't have a plan beforehand.

You have to realize that, if your interruption is specific to your business, it only affects you. But if it's something that's widespread, you're fighting against everything else. You need a generator – well, guess what, so does everyone else.

Consider Hurricane Hugo – a chainsaw that cost $60 one day cost $300 the day after Hugo hits. If you're a company, you have to already know how you're going to get that chainsaw.

Q: What do you think is the most important thing to look for in an employee?

It's really all about passion. When it comes down to it, we're all about trying to help people. We're really in the business of doing good, and there are very few businesses that can say that.

We look for highly customer-service-focused individuals – you have to have that. Disaster can happen at anytime, so we need someone who's willing to go out there and do their job at 3 in the morning.