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Disaster planning, move to the cloud allows Marin County firm to operate during power shut-offs

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When the lights go out, your business is dead in the water, right?

No, it isn’t.

This is 2019, and for many companies, disaster-recovery planning and remote working can allow them to continue a normal tempo of business despite disasters.

Just ask Peg Pike, chief operating officer of Brouwer & Janachowski LLC, a wealth management and financial advisory firm in Mill Valley. It had to employ its disaster-recovery plan because of the power outages imposed by Pacific Gas & Electric to reduce wildfire risk.

Without power, its security locked down, making it impossible for company employees to enter the building, Pike said. Had the company’s email and data servers been in that building, they would not have bene able to operate. But that wasn’t the case.

“We moved to the cloud a number of years ago,” Pike said. “If you can find power and internet, you can log into the cloud from anywhere.”

But about half of the company’s employees lost power at home too. A PG&E’s public safety power shut-off Saturday, Oct. 26, ahead of high fire danger in late October affected most all of Marin County and over 300,000 North Bay customers all together. The utility cut power to Marin customers and others in the region in a wider shut-off in early October.

Pike said determining which employees were online and available was one of the first orders of business under its disaster-recovery plan when the power went out.

“We have email chains and text chains to try to understand what services people have and do not have,” she said. “Those with service who respond, we route calls or communications to those people, who then make sure the messages get passed along or take care of whatever need is handed to them.”

Pike said there are three primary people at the company, including her, who initiate the text chain. Because she did not have phone service — many cell towers went out during the outages as well — that responsibility fell with someone else, she said.

“People have to be flexible, fungible,” Pike said. “If I have to do client service, I do client service…. If someone else has to answer the phones, they answer the phones.”

Speaking on Wednesday, Pike said because of the advance planning, the company was able to operate “a little bit business as usual.” It was able to make financial trades, look at portfolios, follow markets, answer questions and perform client service requests.

Power was restored to most of Marin on Wednesday night.

Having advance notice of the outages helped, Pike said. PG&E announces shut-off areas at least a day ahead of time.

“We did send out a mass email to clients and associates,” such as the company’s banking and accounting partners, she said. “We let them know that the office is without power; however, we are continuing to function via the cloud and that we will answer all calls.”

She said employees took letterhead stationery with them on their way out of the office, in case communications had to go back to pen and paper.

Pike said while the process can always be refined, she is pleased with how the staff handled the outages, even working from each other’s homes, depending on who had power.

“I have to say, like some of the other business owners, I’m pretty happy with the way that we’ve handled it,” Pike said.

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