Every Boy Scout knows that it’s best to be prepared and if you’re the owner of a country estate that means setting up a really robust disaster recovery plan. These plans should be based on a thorough risk assessment and since risk varies from property to property, you may want a specialist to carry it out. However, knowing what to look out for yourself will result in a more water-tight recovery plan and, should disaster strike, a safer outcome for both yourself and your possessions. We asked Harry Dawe-Lane, Director of Aon Private Clients to talk us through the essentials.

1. Prevention is better than Cure

It is impossible to protect your property from every hazard but with a bit of forward planning, you can reduce the risks posed by fire, theft and water.

Things to consider:

  • Is your insurance policy adequate? For example, you may want to include cover for temporary housing in case you and any live-in staff have to move out following a disaster. This can be a lengthy process, especially if your home is listed and needs extensive renovation. 
  • Estates which have commercial activities could benefit from having business interruption cover to pay for any drop in gross profit caused by damage. 
  • Are your important possessions properly documented and valued? Art collections, for example, should be valued at least every three to five years. It is also a good idea to take photographs of your items and keep bills of all sales, this will help to substantiate any potential future loss.
  • Does the estate office have the ability to get remote IT access? 
  • Do you have duplicates of all important documents? These should be kept in a safe place away from the house, ideally with your solicitor.


It is a good idea to think about:

  • Installing smoke detectors and have them connected to the local fire station, especially if the property is frequently unoccupied. Most modern systems are fitted with a double trigger to minimise false alarms.
  • Having your wiring inspected on a regular basis and annually for thatched properties.
  • Getting to know your local fire officer so that s/he is familiar with your property, knows where the nearest water source is and where to find important documentation such as salvage cards. Salvage cards should include a photograph and brief description of your most valuable items. 
  • Making the fire brigade familiar with any access issues to the estate – you could think about inviting the fire brigade to your estate to assess if there are any access issues and how they would overcome them. They will also sometimes run practise drills to make sure in the event of a fire that they can act quickly, for example, they may trial taking water from your lake to use to put out the fire.
  • If there is a large area of forestry on the estate, are there sufficient fire breaks and is there access to water?
  • What  are the risks to your contents? Art collections, important furniture and rare books, for example, may require specialist protection such as systems designed to pump oxygen out of the room to extinguish fire. 
  • Whether everyone who lives and works on the estate is familiar with the fire drill?


You may want to consider:

  • Installing locks on all doors and windows and connecting your burglar alarm to the police station. 
  • Protecting valuable art works with movement sensors. Most up to date alarms include double triggers to minimise false alarms caused by flying insects.
  • The access to your estate and the visibility of assets on display, for example storing farm machinery out of sight and keeping gates locked.


You may want to consider:

  • Water from burst or leaking pipes is one of the most common causes of damage. Consider installing a water leak protection system which will automatically shut off the system if it detects a drop in water pressure. This is particularly useful in larger properties where all rooms are not regularly occupied.

2. The Disaster Recovery Plan

You may want to consider:

  • Appointing a disaster recovery team – these will be the people responsible for implementing the plan should disaster strike. Make sure they are fully briefed and are familiar with the procedure.
  • Drawing up a floor plan of the inside of the house, detailing room-by-room which pieces must be moved in the event of a disaster. Remember, the floor plan and salvage cards may have to be used by firemen in the dark so it’s a good idea to make them as clear as possible and also laminate them to protect them from water. You could also benefit from making salvage cards for each piece and storing them in a safe place with easy access. You may also want to include a photograph and a brief written description but its best not to put the value (the cards may fall into the wrong hands). It’s a good idea to keep the plan and cards near an exit, making sure both your disaster recovery team and your fire officer know where to find them. 
  • Making a list of the telephone numbers of all the people who should be contacted in the event of a disaster. This could include members of the disaster recovery team, your insurance broker, a storage company and neighbours who might re-house livestock. It’s a good idea to make several copies and ensure that everyone in the disaster recovery team knows where they are kept.
  • Making arrangements to store artworks and furniture. The storage company you appoint may need to get to you quickly so it might be worth finding someone in your local area and briefing them of your requirements. Remember that you might need lorries to come out at short notice and possibly during the night. 
  • Checking that you have the correct fire extinguishers in the correct places and that everyone in the house knows how to use them. There’s no point in trying to put out a chip pan fire with water for example, and you wouldn’t want foam all over your collection of rare maps. You should think about how you will protect large pieces of furniture which can’t be moved, for example by using fire blankets.

3. When Disaster Strikes

If the worst does happen then you need to act quickly. In the case of a fire, call the fire brigade and ensure that everyone in the property is safe. Only when it is safe to do so, remove all the pieces listed on the salvage cards, call your storage company and cover large pieces of furniture with fire blankets. If water is pouring into your property then focus on stopping the leak if it is safe to do so and call an emergency plumber. Ensure you know where to locate both local and main stopcocks too.
In the aftermath of a disaster you need to contact your insurer or insurance broker who will work with your insurer to appoint a loss adjustor to assess the damage. As soon as it is safe to enter the property, it might worth photographing the damage and keeping anything that has been ruined as proof that a loss has occurred.

We all assume that the worst won’t happen to us or our property but the benefits of a well thought through disaster recovery plan can be invaluable in the event that it does.

For further information or to discuss a query please contact Harry Dawe-Lane
on +44 (0)20 7086 0346 or harry.dawe-lane@aon.co.uk

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This article has been compiled using information available to us up to 30.06.14.