After forecasters announced late last week that Sandy was making a left turn into the Northeastern seaboard, Chris Munafo, head of Janney Montgomery Scott’s private client group administration, began looking at his options.

“Late last week we started thinking ‘What if?,” Munafo said on the phone, working from his home in Southern New Jersey instead of headquarters. “What we do is think about all the things we’ve learned in the past. The interesting thing about this one is that it’s impacting Philadelphia and surrounding areas; communities that we serve that are located in headquarters. So it makes this one a bit trickier.”

In addition to headquarters, which remains open, around 50 locations (approximately half of Janney’s offices) were affected by Irene last year and stand to bare some of the worst of the weather this time around. So far around 30 offices have been officially closed.

“The first priority of this business continuity program is to ensure the safety of employees and protect client information,” Munafo said. “That’s number one.”

In Washington D.C., Sheila S. Shaffer, a senior vice president who leads a team of five, was closing shop at 1 PM today and only had a third of her staff in the office, she said. The rest were working remotely.

“It has to be a one-by-one situation based on what’s best for their personal situation,” Shaffer said. “Anyone who needs help, the whole branch is here to help out.”

For her, power outages are her biggest concern given all the older trees in her neighborhood. In that case, she would rely on a network of backup branches as part of the firm’s buddy system. Phones will automatically redirect to another firm in Florida, for example, and advisors can access client data through that second branch as well. There is also a 1-800 number on the website that clients can access, and headquarters has a generator-powered backup disaster recovery site.

“The whole firm is mobilized right now to make sure that we have people in the right place and contingency plans are operating properly,” Munafo said.

The firm also has security measures in place to protect data, which can get spread out as advisors access their systems from different areas. Several password protections are in place to ensure that the wrong person is not logging into a server remotely. 

That’s important, Munafo said, because advisors still have plenty of business to tend to even though the markets are closed. Munafo expected that advisors would be “resourceful,” during these times, working to review portfolios so that they will be prepared for the situation once the clouds clear. More importantly, he believes that advisors should be checking in on clients, especially older clients who may be in the path of the storm.

“I know that there are plenty of [financial advisors] who are calling those people to make sure they’re safe, to make sure they don’t need anything the [advisor] can be providing,” Munafo said. “So they’re making a phone call or checking on a family member or something. There’s a lot going on when there’s weather like this.”

At Shaffer’s office in D.C., she said they were mostly trying to stay out of client’s way and let them focus on their safety rather than their financial situation. However, her branch was following the storm to see how it would affect their clientele.

“Thursday morning, we’ll know the hardest hit areas and know which clients are based in those areas, so we can reach out to as many as we can,” Shaffer said.

The biggest concern, according to Munafo, was just how long it was going to take to get out from underneath the hurricane’s way. It was not clear how long offices would remain closed. “It’s just a question of when the power goes how, how long it goes out and when the batteries run out on the cell phones,” he said.