Happy Anniversary—Not

This week marks my ten-year anniversary.  It was 15 degrees on Sunday, January 20, 2008, when a fire broke out in my condominium complex and about wiped out my business.

It started in the bathroom fan of a unit on the third floor. It smoldered in the attic for a while, then spread quickly as there were no firewalls in the attic.

When the alarm went off, I didn’t think much about it, as we had been having trouble with the alarms. But when it continued to screech, I went into the hallway and smelled smoke. Still disbelieving, I set my laptop on the table next to my chair, put on my coat and boots, grabbed my purse, and went outside. I thought that perhaps someone had left a pan on the stove.

Reality struck when I saw flames shooting through the roof, and many, many firetrucks. Thanks to live TV coverage, my phone was blowing up with calls from concerned friends.

The next day, I saw the aftermath from the outside. “Fortunately,” the flames did not reach the second floor where my condo was. But I wasn’t allowed in for two weeks (structural safety concerns) and that’s when I saw that everything that wasn’t tucked in a cupboard or drawer was completely soaked, covered in drywall from the ceiling caving in, and frozen. And that included my desktop computer, which was encased in ice. (Today, when someone says their computer has frozen up, I think, “Oh you ain’t seen nothin’.”)

The laptop? Stolen by looters, who also took two pieces of jewelry that belonged to my late mother. And my business? Dead in the water. Or shall I say, ice. When I was finally allowed to haul the computer out of the ruin, I took it to the Mac geniuses at Compucraft, who somehow managed to recover all my data and put it on a new computer. (I love those guys.)

By now, it was three weeks after the fire. As everything was on the computer, I had no way of immediately contacting clients to let them know the situation. Because I had not been in touch, several moved on to other writers. And when I did finally reach them, it was too late.

Here’s what I learned.

1.     Know what to grab in case of emergency. My list includes my external back-up hard drive, my cell phone and charger, and my Macbook. Of course, important documents and other things are on the list.  Like my cats. And a bra. (A story for another day.)

2.     Have a trustworthy insurance agent. I had never met nor spoken to my insurance agent prior to the fire. When I finally reached him, he cut me a check for $1,000 and then disappeared for six weeks to New Orleans to deal with Katrina claims.

3.     Insure your business equipment. Yes, I had renter’s insurance (I was renting the condo) and the $1,000 check was supposed to be enough to buy me a new computer. What it didn’t cover was the $700 charge to recover the data from the frozen drive. Or a new printer. Or modem. Or any of the other pieces of equipment we needed ten years ago.

4.     Sync everything. Back-up everything.

5.     Have a network of fellow creatives who can help you get back up and running by loaning you equipment, offering a workspace, or even take over a project if it comes to that.

 Don’t let a relatively simple (compared to hurricanes and mudslides) disaster shut down your business.