Disasters are unavoidable. Blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other events will always happen. And when those disasters do hit, they’re bound to disrupt our daily routines and essential functions.
It’s the government’s job to restore the status quo following disruptive incidents, either through their own hands or through partnerships on the private side.
Organizing the re-establishment of continuity following a disaster without a plan can be challenging. This is where continuity of operations plans (COOP) come in.
COOP plans can be very detailed and expansive because they consider the web underneath everything we do as a society. Building a plan can be tough though, but there are a few essential elements every plan should have.
Emergency management, as a practice, focuses on reducing the loss sustained by uncontrollable disaster-type events. Continuity of operations plans are an extension of that thought process.
Continuity, in both the public and private sectors, identifies essential functions and outlines how to sustain them or restore them should they break down. More recently, FEMA worked the concept into its operations and the National Response Framework through its Community Lifelines disaster response approach.
Governments, and especially the small governments with limited resources, should build continuity of operations plans (COOP) to maximize their resources and limit function downtime. And while COOP is an established practice, it’s still making its way through agencies at all levels.
Breaking Down COOP Plans
FEMA recognizes 10 foundational elements COOP should cover. Those components are listed below.
- Essential Functions and Services
Essential functions and services are the heart of the Community Lifelines framework. Any continuity of operations plan should identify the essential services and functions of the community and the pathways through which they reach their communities. Understanding these functions and pathways, protecting both, and prioritizing their restoration will ensure a community and the organization reach homeostasis faster.
- Orders of Succession
All organizations and groups within them have a structure of authority and assigned roles; in COOP for government, these roles can be attached to legal duties as well. COOP plans should recognize these roles and their duties and heirs for those duties when their primary owners are unable to complete them. Most recommendations state three orders of succession are the minimum.
- Delegation of Authority
Delegation of Authority is similar in nature to Orders of Succession. Delegation of Authority calls for documents that identify activities and the people who are authorized to perform said duties for key officials during disruptive events. Delegation of Authority passes down the Order of Succession Tree.
- Continuity Facilities
Most essential functions and services run from a physical location. Should the event make the primary location unavailable, a COOP plan should name alternate locations so that any disrupted essential functions or services can resume.
Communications are a cornerstone in all operations. Government COOP plans should call out all the cogs software, hardware, and personnel that make this facet work. Governments and their agencies need to communicate with staff, external stakeholders, and the media throughout a response, so COOP plans should find ways of pushing information out regardless of circumstance; this means making communications strategies redundant and quick to set up. Because some events are prolonged, whatever infrastructure is built should be sustainable for up to a month.
- Vital Records Management
Most operations are driven by certain documents. This step in a COOP plan ensures the protection and accessibility of those documents.
- Human Capital
Even automated processes have a person behind them. Human capital within a COOP plan picks out the personnel critical to essential functions and services. Cross- and vertical-training personnel can boost a COOP plan and the overall resilience of an organization. This bucket should consider the truly essential personnel and spell roles for non-essential personnel. Additionally, best practices say organizations should also build alternate work procedures to accommodate teleworking scenarios and management strategies that can weather disruptions.
- Training and Exercises
Emergencies and disasters are inherently stressful, and some people may find it tough to perform their duties under an unusual pressure. Regular training and exercises for all staff can ease them into their roles, reduce their stress, and lead to better outcomes when it really matters.
Devolution is a legal means of transferring authority from either the primary personnel or facilities should either be unavailable.
Things change dramatically through the course of an event, which the primary COOP components and procedures laid out in the piece hint at. And while the shifts in authority and operations during an incident may work, they’re not a standard intended for everyday operations. COOP plans need to lay out a path of returning daily operations.
COOP Plans Ensure Continuity
COOP plans help build the resilience of a community to disasters. This best practice should be established across all levels of government, from local to state agencies and federal teams. But building a plan can be daunting, especially from a position of little knowledge. With the core components listed above, an EOC and its planners can guarantee that their communities can function through incidents and minimize the impacts of disruptions.