April 11, 2011 – What does melting snow in central Minnesota have to do with the practice of law in western Wisconsin? Hopefully, the answer is “nothing at all.”
But if your law office happens to be close to the Mississippi River, you should note that National Weather Service hydrologists warn that melting snow in parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with recent heavy rainfall, could push the river over its flood stage this week.
Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) has announced that April 11-15, 2011 is Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week in Wisconsin. Their goal is to remind people of the dangers associated with tornadoes, thunderstorms, flooding and hail and to encourage them to take protective safety measures.
A statewide drill is planned for Thursday, April 14 from 1-2 p.m. The drill will be an ideal opportunity to practice safe procedures for severe weather.
Making disaster preparedness a priority
Attorney Nerino Petro, the State Bar’s Practice Management Advisor, echoes WEM’s suggestion to practice safe procedures.
“Reviewing disaster preparedness should be a part of an annual practice checkup,” he urges. “In addition to reviewing insurance coverage for flooding and other natural hazards, this review should also include a review of coverage for fire and other potential risks.”
Petro has posted a list of WisBar disaster resources. Additional resources that address records management, communication and other issues that could improve business operations can also be found on the State Bar’s Law Practice Management (Practice 411™) section on WisBar. Petro can be reached at 608-250-6012 or 800-444-9404 ext. 6012 or via email at org npetro wisbar wisbar npetro org
The potential impacts of inadequate disaster preparedness were summarized in a 2006 Wisconsin Lawyer article by attorney Thomas J. Watson, director of communications at Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co.
In addition to disrupting business operations and generating unanticipated business expenses, he warned that “severe weather or even an office fire could happen at any time. Even the slightest interruption to your practice could be a disaster.
According to a University of Minnesota study, more than 90 percent of businesses that are without access to their data for more than 10 days file bankruptcy within one year of the disaster.”
While swelling rivers, lakes and streams pose the most pressing weather-related concern in many parts of the state, WEM points to tornadoes as a persistent and unpredictable threat:
Wisconsin averages 21 tornadoes annually.
In 2010, 46 tornadoes in Wisconsin were confirmed by the National Weather Services, the second greatest yearly number on record. Fortunately, no one was killed but 22 were injured and the tornadoes caused nearly $30 million in property damage.
The peak tornado season in Wisconsin is April to August, but tornadoes can occur any time of year, like the January 7, 2008 tornadoes in Walworth and Kenosha Counties.
Tornadoes can occur anytime, day or night, but are most frequent between 4pm and 9pm.
Additional preparedness information is posted at http://readywisconsin.wi.gov. Information about community disaster preparedness resources and plans is available by contacting your county emergency management director or Tod Pritchard, WEM Emergency Management Coordinator at gov tod.pritchard wisconsin wisconsin tod.pritchard gov or 608-242-3324.
Responding to member needs
The State Bar is committed to responding to the needs of members impacted by severe weather and other disasters. These services, including practical advice on recovering business operations, as outlined on the WisBar disaster resources page and a toll-free “disaster hotline” (877-947-5291) will be activated for use by members when widespread flooding or other severe weather impacts a significant portion of the state.
The State Bar will also coordinate directly with local bar association leadership in affected counties to identify and assess unmet member needs. This response could range from matching those needs with available resources, such as finding a temporary office location or office equipment, to confidential advice on coping with the emotional stresses that can accompany natural- and man-made disasters.
Responding to public needs
The State Bar cooperates with WEM, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies to provide assistance to property owners and others impacted by severe weather events. Victims facing legal issues who may need the help of a lawyer will be invited to contact the State Bar’s toll-free Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 877-947-5291 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. central time Monday through Friday to request assistance.
In the event of widespread flooding or other emergencies, the State Bar will activate a pro bono program to match victims who qualify for assistance with Wisconsin lawyers. These lawyers have volunteered to provide free legal help with such immediate needs as securing FEMA and other government benefits, helping with insurance claims and providing guidance in contracting for services with home repair contractors. Depending on the scope of the emergency, this response could include free legal clinics and other outreach activities in impacted communities.
By Tom Solberg
, Media Relations Coordinator, State Bar of Wisconsin