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Despite the saturation coverage of the hurricanes — Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, which hit the U.S. by late September — images of their aftermath still seem somewhat unimaginable. They force each of us to confront the dreadful “what if” scenario of losing our home and belongings. It’s a circumstance that most of us will never have to experience. But that is not the case for Harold Lewis of Pathman Lewis in Miami. In 1992 he huddled with his family in a hallway of his Miami home as hurricane Andrew, a category 5 storm — and the costliest in U.S. history — passed overhead. Fortunately he and his family escaped without injury; however, a tree from the backyard was hurled through the roof of his home. “It was the strangest thing to go outside when the storm had finally stopped around 6 a.m.,” says Lewis. “It looked like a bomb had dropped — there were no street signs, it was very disorienting.” It took 16 months to rebuild the house, in part because Lewis took the time to wait for contractors, whom he knew he could trust, to be available. “You can’t just jump into rebuilding,” he advises. After hurricane Charley hit the west coast of Florida causing upwards of an estimated $7 billion in damage and leaving hundreds of thousands without power, Pathman Lewis decided to help out. Charley began its sweep across the southwestern part of the state on August 13 and within a week the firm had mobilized to offer relief supplies. The firm decided to close its office on August 19 and transport supplies to the most severely devastated communities of Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. It rented a U-Haul and, through its client relationships, received the use of a van and an SUV to help transport its relief supplies — part of the firm’s work involves automobile dealership transactions. Pathman Lewis also was able to negotiate discounts with a local Wal-Mart to purchase relief supplies such as water, food and diapers. All told, the firm spent about $15,000 — not to mention the foregone billable hours. Lewis says that it was an important event that helped the firm bond even further around a good cause. TAKING PRECAUTIONS While the members of the firm reached out after hurricane Charley, within weeks they would find themselves potentially in the path of both hurricane Frances and hurricane Jeanne. The firm’s 10 attorneys and 15 staff members put their disaster preparedness plan into motion on both occasions. “It’s important to focus on back-up communication,” says Lewis. The firm has a back-up phone system in Miami but, perhaps more importantly, it has an out-of-state number that people can call. If the local area is severely impacted, an out-of-state number ensures that members of the firm will be accounted for. Other important precautionary measures for Pathman Lewis: � Remove the furniture and clear the walls of any exterior/windowed offices. � Take everything off of the floor. A water soaked carpet can be nearly as damaging as an actual flood. � In particular make sure electronics, books and paperwork are not on the floor. Take the extra precaution of wrapping computers in plastic bags. � If you use a tape data back up system, make sure that your tapes are appropriately protected or moved off site if possible. � Pathman Lewis has a couple of relationships in place with other businesses to provide office space and the necessary equipment to get the firm back up and running in the case of an emergency. (As a small firm, it doesn’t have the luxury of moving staffers to a branch office.) Hurricane season doesn’t end until November 30. The 2005 season will begin just six months later on June 1 and will start with Arlene, Bret and Cindy. By this time next year we should know whether any of them will join the list of memorable deluges such as Andrew, Hugo and the hurricanes of 2004. Trevor Delaney is managing editor of Small Firm Business magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

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