Emergency Management GIS Mapping

Transcript: COOP Reinvented: How to Simplify and Accelerate Your Recovery Plans

COOP Reinvented: How to Simplify and Accelerate Your Recovery Plans

This webinar was originally recorded on February 23rd, 2023. You can watch the recording here.

Meet Hannah Coffey, PMP, MBCP, and Lauren Mink, CEM

Hannah Coffey  00:00

All right. Howdy-hey everyone. I’m Hannah Coffey. I think I might be known to some of you as a serial COOP-er. I build COOPs, mainly chicken coops, occasionally the E 30 BMW coupe. But today we’ll be talking about Continuity of Operations Plans, the real COOP, and fortunately, I’m joined by the much smarter and much, much more adroit colleague of mine, Lauren Mink, CEM is Product Manager, and I’ll let her introduce herself since I shouldn’t get that honor.

Lauren Mink  00:43

Thanks, Hannah. Hi, folks. My name is Lauren Mink, as Hannah said. Previous to joining Veoci did work in higher education as a Continuity Planner. I am familiar with business continuity. But many of the same 10 years of business continuity relate over to continuity of operations and continuity of governance. So I’m here today to help out Hannah and talk about how we have reinvented COOP.

Hannah Coffey  01:18

So, and to Lauren’s great credit too she is hanging in there today, in spite of amazing laryngitis. She’s a trooper and true Emergency Manager. So you’ll hear more of my voice than you would probably like that said, Lauren, I, and the team here at Veoci have been gifted with what we often call the world’s biggest set of grown up Legos. And we took those Legos and we tried to solve a problem.

What is a COOP, and Why Did it Need Reinventing?

Hannah Coffey  01:48

The problem is kind of an age old one, it dates back to at least World War II. And we’re going to talk about that problem, its modern context, and what is a COOP? Why it’s important, or at least why we think it’s important. And then hopefully why you think it’s important, which is that thing that matters most, the outdated methods we’ve all been using to date, including myself, and why it needed reinventing. Because none of us want to reinvent the wheel. How we’re going to reinvent your coop hopefully, and then how to bring every day relevant technology that is now becoming close to Pleistocene into a new and happy procedural obligation. I tried to avoid the phrase unfunded mandate, it has become the one most closely associated with COOP. I will try now also not to read from the slides and bore you to death.

Hannah Coffey  02:59

So what is a COOP? I often phrase it like this, it is simply a spare set of car keys. It is an internal recovery plan that we all have to have that continues to allow us to perform our essential services. It doesn’t really help us respond to an emergency, I think it’s very important to make that distinction. And it doesn’t mitigate e.g. a hazard mitigation plan that prevents an emergency from happening again. Instead it is the inflatable clown, right, from the circus act that comes back again every time, no matter how many times you knock it back. That said, a lot of people tell me that the thing they like about COOP planning and yes, some people actually do like it, myself included, is that it is the non scary part. But it’s also the most applicable part of government emergency planning in general. And I think that’s very true. It’s that blue sky, normal, how do we keep doing what we promised our citizenry, our students, our business consumers, all of those stakeholders, how do we keep doing what we promised them we would do? So that said, I’ll tell you how Lauren and I approached the problem and then we’ll start letting you guys chime in

Hannah Coffey  04:38

Okay, who needs the COOP? Everyone. Everyone on this call does. I need one. My marriage needs one. My dogs, my vet, every organization large or small. They make our assumed work visible. I think what they really do is by taking these tasks that we all have, that we know we have to perform, but we haven’t really thought through and sequence. They take those tasks, they lay them out on the table and then they ask, what seems to be a very obvious question, which is, well, who does those? And in what order? And which ones are really essential, which ones must be done today, for me to be considered, you know, an effective or even functional worker? That bar is pretty low if you’re like me. But for a lot of us, we take these for granted. And I’m no exception. I know that I certainly take some of Lauren’s work for granted. It’s very easy for us to do. And one of the things that a COOP prevents once it lays all of those out and asks who performs these tasks, is it prevents us taking our coworkers for granted, and taking a lot of our facilities, our resources, and many of the things that we took before the year of our Lord 2020 for granted, and just relegating them to the side. It also helps us most importantly, I think build institutional resilience and trust and I’ll talk about that later, both in the civic setting, but also in the internal business setting.

Hannah Coffey  06:19

Right, and why does COOP need reinventing? As I may have indicated, it’s been around since World War II and while I have a vehicle that’s been around since World War II, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not necessarily a great thing when you’re talking about standards and evolving technology. It is the principle on which most government services are founded, right? It was a military principle that came out of the war and organized what the most important functions of government were to be. We then took it a step further in the 1960s/70s, and ultimately 80s and formed continuity guidance. And finally, in the late 1990s, we went ahead and made it codified, and we created CGC, one and two. These two pieces of guidance were divided, one intended for the federal sector and one intended for the private sector. And while that is great, I think there was a little bit of a disservice done there, and that the two couldn’t really cross pollinate.

Lauren Mink  07:43

We have a few polls that we’re going to send out. So the first one I left up for a little over 30 seconds was whether or not you had a continuity plan implemented at your organization. Now, we would like to know how old is that continuity plan?

Hannah Coffey  08:05

You do not have to lie here. I promise these can remain anonymous, and nothing you say will shock me. The oldest one I’ve gotten to date in over a decade and a half of doing this, is a 1981 date. So if anybody can beat that I will be seriously impressed. There’ll be no shame involved there. Perfect.

Lauren Mink  08:36

So let’s share. Very good. We have seen that most people coming out of COVID have many lessons learned and they’re able to take those lessons learned and incorporate those into their planning efforts. So it’s good to see we have some one to five year updates. That’s great.

Hannah Coffey  08:59

That’s impressive. If I’m getting a 56 percentile for one to five years, that’s not too shabby. And if you’re not sure, that’s also probably pretty normal. A lot of people say, well, I know I have revisited the contacts, or I know I updated Lauren’s cell phone number, and that’s not a bad answer. Right? A lot of people say, you know, when do you do it? And why do you do it? And I think that’s the purpose of this next question. You know, do you do it as needed? Do you set a schedule? Or did you do it under duress during COVID? Many of us did. None of these answers are necessarily wrong. But we decided that we could do it in a more kind of codified and methodical way by using our big box of Legos.

Using Our Big Box of Legos.

Hannah Coffey  09:58

So we started out with a step by step, kind of customized instruction for your jurisdiction. And we built it primarily on a government model. But that’s not exclusive to government , only in that government wrote the originals, right, and then guided them later on, even when they landed in the lap of the private sector. We then wanted to make sure that each section could be easily guided and would have dynamic forms for the subsections of COOP, things like your essential functions, your contacts, your facilities, and for whatever else you needed included in that plan. As we moved along, one of the things we needed to answer in this is how we wanted to assess people’s actual content, and how we wanted to prompt for that content, because the onus has been typically on emergency managers to get people to fill out a COOP plan or take a paper template. And, you know, here you go, you know, stick to this Word document and just answer the questions posed by it. That has not always proved the easiest of methods in order to elicit a response. And so I’m going to now allow Lauren to take us back or Julie can take us back to the PowerPoint, and we can show you how we decided to solve a lot of those questions about workflows, prompting answers, and eliciting the best as his as possible from our audience.

Hannah Coffey  13:22

So what did a streamline implementation really look like in Veoci? The most important thing is that we start with a unified taxonomy. And that taxonomy is one that gives us our divisions, our departments, formats the data appropriately and in a consistent manner, and it ultimately gives us our vital records, resources and all those systems we rely on as well. One of the most common things that we saw as we started processing BCPS, over the years, was that people would call systems by different names, or they would refer to Michael as Mike and we would end up with redundancy and reduplication. And then this led to very noisy at best, if not outright, erroneous data. So Veoci starts with an implementation import template that streamlines everything on your side, so that you don’t have to do the thinking, but simply extract the data often from your human resources, your facilities, or your IT departments.

The Configuration

Hannah Coffey  14:34

The next thing that we realized was seriously lacking was configuration. If you’ve ever sat there with a Word document in front of you, you know that the most miserable part of that is trying to turn that into a document that’s relevant to your organization, and you know your organization best. So by taking our low code system, and turning that box of Legos around and giving it to you, we allow you to display your department and division, that data in such a way that it is accessible and easily read to all of your stakeholders. That includes vendors, that includes civic entities, that includes NGOs, nonprofits, it’s quite a large swath of people when you talk about everyone who needs to participate in a COOP at a jurisdictional level.

Hannah Coffey  15:31

And then the next question that occurs to everyone is, well, once I do it, what do I show my boss? My boss is going to want to see an end product for this. And by having configurable dashboards, you can create those in such a way that you give your boss enough data, but not too much, because as we all know, you don’t want your boss to see everything. And then finally, the biggest part of the equation that we saw lacking was a truly mobile interface. And it was this configuration in this box of Legos that allowed us to play with dashboards in a mobile setting, and make them actually usable, should you activate your COOP.

Hannah Coffey  16:16

But then, it still doesn’t answer the question, how do I elicit this data from folks? And how do I get blood from the proverbial turnip? What we knew we had to do was do step by step instructions and we needed to put it in a very modern and very clean interface that would walk people in a stepwise fashion through customizable instructions. Because again, your jurisdiction, while it may have to follow a federal template, or it may have to follow a fire code, or it may have to follow in an insurance regulation, that continuity plan is still yours. And those instructions still need to be pertinent to your employees, your stakeholders, your vendors. And so every page and every step of the way, at Veoci you can customize each and every dashboard tile, you can customize everything from colors to sequence. You can even customize, you know, the little logos, the cues and the helper text. Some people say that my helper text is a little curt. I tend to opt for less is more but I’ve had some customers who’ve written, you know, theses of helper texts for their end users. And it’s actually been wonderful, mainly because it’s cross pollinated across our user groups and recently, one wanted to know where this particular set of helper texts came from and a friendship has come out of it that’s quite unique between a financial entity and a jurisdiction that was very distrusting up until then, of banks.

Hannah Coffey  18:10

All right now about these forms. What we do at the end of the day is recognize that, while the pieces may be fancy, and the coding system that underpins it robust and secure, we’re still just talking about people and places and things. And all of these people, places and things feed our processes and procedures. Right? We have employees and teams, we have those essential functions that those employees and teams perform. We have delegations of authority, the things that we’re allowed to do. And we have orders of succession who takes my place if I win the lottery and run off to Tahiti, right? And in this TurboTax-like template that walks you through things in a stepwise fashion, ultimately, the goal is to then create a set of processes and procedures built around just people, places, and things and never make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Hannah Coffey  19:14

The next thing that needed to happen when it came to continuity plans was that tasks occur and they’re usually found in appendices and indexes and annexes. We’re all familiar with the owners essential functions annex and enter dependencies annex, and while those are accurate, they are not very useful on the fly the day that a water main does break. The most common thing that our clients typically complain of in the continuity setting or come to us with is water main breaks, believe it or not. Because without potable water, or water to a building, operations come to a halt very, very quickly. But who you ask to turn water on to another building, or who you ask what sort of water is available at the building three blocks away, is a task in and of itself, and it needs to occur in real time. So this is this fun gray zone between an actual response plan, an Emergency Operations Plan, and a continuity plan designed to stand you back up. And for a long time, there was resistance to creating dynamic or activatable continuity plans that turned into anything that approached even remotely an emergency response plan. I thought, and it turned out that I was lucky that Lauren agreed with me, that this didn’t have to be the case. That we could actually assign tasks, we could track them all the way through to completion, and we could turn a continuity plan into a somewhat activatable and actionable plan.

Hannah Coffey  19:14

It sounded like heresy at first to a lot. And it has turned out to be a rather popular idea, as a lot of heretics quickly find out. Lauren has spent some significant time and this is one of my favorite features that she has built in, and I’ll let her speak to it, the customized automated and or ad hoc notifications. Because these are really built upon the engine and the lessons learned from our incident management history and our background in aviation and other verticals.


Lauren Mink  22:05

Perfect. So we all know how important notifications are. Veoci has a built-in notification system that can act as either your mass notification system or supplement your current mass notification system. Our notifications do have redundancy built in. We have push notifications, phone calls, SMS text messages, and emails. These notifications can be templated, so that they can be sent very easily with the press of just a few buttons. These notifications can also be sent automatically, so based on some type of trigger, something submitted a task gets completed. Working with you, we can identify what those triggers are, send those notifications to the appropriate audiences and then you could also send manual or customized ad hoc notifications on the fly as well.

Lauren Mink  23:00

So over on the screenshots here, the top one is a notification in the system itself and the second one is a text message that comes in. And you’ll see that you’re not only able to just send notifications, you can ask for responses as well. So in that second case, you’re being asked, Are you available to respond? You can respond one for yes, two for no. You’re also able to change those responses so that if you’re needing to ask, you know, can you respond within text one for one hour two, for two hours, three for three hours, you can modify those options.

Lauren Mink  23:40

The third image there shows you all notifications that have been sent. So you’ll have date and time stamps, as well as the methods that those were sent. And then clicking into one of those notification methods, you can actually see the responses that you’ve received, how they responded, and then you also have the option to export to Excel or resend the notification if you need to do so. I believe Hannah has mentioned that you can also use your call tree, call trees are very important for alert notification in the event of activating your continuity plan. And so we also have call trees as part of the notification process in Veoci as well.

Hannah Coffey  24:24

Super. I often refer to this as our Jewish mother functionality. One of the things that I most like about it is that, particularly in a continuity setting where you need to know in an accelerated fashion, how quickly your buildings are filling up, or which buildings are going to become the most popular, e.g. have all the Keurig machines located at them. You can actually set this chatty feature to increase by time. It does not have to be a static increment and it can grow more and more frequent as you move along. Darling, why haven’t you called me?

The Plan Maintenance Cycle

Hannah Coffey  25:08

And then, as we talk about getting people to do things, and automating and removing some of the burden from you, the planner, we also can talk about something called the plan maintenance cycle. It is an automated set of reminders to update a section of your plan. These reminders are really designed to help you eat an elephant, to break down each and every part of your plan into digestible portions that allow us to really refine an element like functions, or contacts, or vital records of resources and make them manageable because no one wants to sit down and write a 55-110 page plan all at once, or wait three years to update their entire plan. So we both know here, Lauren, I’ve read plenty of them that have sat for three to five years. And by the time you reach that point, most of those people have retired, moved to other departments or at a bare minimum to another building, or convinced the boss to let them work from home.

Hannah Coffey  26:20

The other thing that the plan maintenance cycle allows us to do is it allows us to escalate these reminders. And this is this kind of Jewish mother functionality and chattiness and allows it to become more frequent rise up to a superior or based on the amount of time that has elapsed to use multiple methodologies, where you get it by SMS, and email and a phone call. And it becomes harder and harder to ignore.

Visualize Dynamic Data and Interdependencies

Lauren Mink  27:04

What’s the hardest part of keeping your continuity plan updated? Maybe these are things that change frequently. These may be things that are the hardest to track and maintain. Maybe you have the least amount of information.

Lauren Mink  27:34

Okay, we’ve got about 50%. We’ll close this and share the results. It’s definitely what I anticipated. I am interested though, in the chat, if you’ll let us know, almost 25% of you reported other. What other types of information it’s hard for you to manage?

Lauren Mink  28:07

So another part of your continuity planning, Hannah has kind of mentioned this already before, is that you want to be able to do something with this data. Previously, your plans have most likely been a Word document, maybe an Excel file, a PDF, something that lived in a file on your desk, on your computer or on the shelf, collecting dust more than likely. And so now you’re able to actually see this data and interact with it in a way that, I’m a visual person, and so these dynamic dashboards allow for real time updates. So as information is populated, or end users update their information, you’re able to see these updates in real time.

Lauren Mink  28:51

In this example, you can see that there are some summary tiles, some grids, graphs, and charts and maps. There are also calendar tiles, notification results in tiles that can embed external information. So you could also embed weather information, outage information, so local power outages, water outages, whatever you might like to see. So that’s just a peek into what our dynamic dashboards look like.

Hannah Coffey  29:20

I think one of my favorite parts to hear, as Lauren kind of takes you through these, is that this allows for managers and for executors and executive teams to really not just slice and dice the data, but view it across regions and create the next logical step which is a mobile interface where people can respond in real time; and say they’ve selected a facility and managers have a very good idea at the higher level and the 10,000 foot view of where they’re going to be the most burdened, and where they’re also going to have the most resiliency, particularly in regions, as is pictured here like Oregon, where you run quickly up against coastline and there are plenty of rivers. In Maine where I live, we have a joke that you can’t get there from here. And it’s quite true. If you do not have a really good set of workarounds and real time mapping, you quite literally could be potarching your way back to work on a Thursday.

Hannah Coffey  30:48

And then finally, what we do once we have all of these people, places, things and processes down, that’s not enough. We need to see how they rely on one another and then we need to know who to unburden. And we need to know which resources to buttress and which buildings to reinforce, and to make not just cold sites or warm sites, but true hot sites, right? That only happens when we can visualize interdependencies and produce real time interdependency reports, much like the map where as these sites fill up and change color now in real time on someone’s mobile phone, something that never happened before with any COOP plan.

Hannah Coffey  31:43

We can now visualize interdependencies as they change, right in real time. We can see what happens visually, when we take six tasks off of Julie’s desk, which let me tell you is nowhere near close to enough. She owes us nothing and we owe her at least 12 off her desk at this point. But being able to notify people that they’ve been reassigned requests that they be reassigned or to shift these resources into the right place and see them there is now a critical part of moving a COOP plan into a mobile and dynamic format. And you can see here that your facilities indeed are no longer just static. They are live there on a map, you can access your actual capacity, you can see your assets and their locations. You can see locations for access, you can see where you don’t have access, whether that’s electric grids, whether that is roadways, or the perennial favorite water main breaks, right?

Hannah Coffey  32:56

Planners and managers can also visualize in this way hot sites, warm sites, cold sites on specific routes and communicate in advance about roadway impairments and receive real time reports. Again, fudging that gap between a response plan and a continuity plan just enough to turn a continuity plan into something a little more actionable and live. We always like pushing the boundaries a bit here at Veoci and this was our way of doing it with something that was long overdue, to have its boundaries pressed.

Lauren Mink  33:36

Right. So the data that you see here can be imported by Shapefile or Excel. We can also integrate with ESRI GIS data can also be manually populated by any location fields or as if you were annotating on a map any physical EOC. So a couple different ways that we can interact with data.

Getting Started on Your COOP

Hannah Coffey  34:05

Ultimately, how it works is that it allows users to start on a roadmap, which we’ve laid out here that gives them a very basic starting point, and walks them through the series of prompts so that they are given the independence they need to fill out a COOP plan, either on their own or in one of our workshops. Ideally, you sit with us first through a set of workshops, and then we turn you loose to do your worst. However, all of those prompts are there to guide you along the yellow brick road so you don’t go astray and you don’t miss any of the critical pieces to a COOP plan. Right. These workflows then become a contiguous dashboard. And it ultimately leads you to a place where you can create a report card with grades that can be created and graded by us here at Veoci and our team of smee’s, or you can grade it internally, we have people who like to do it both ways.

Hannah Coffey  35:14

This allows teams to refine the specifics, the nitty gritty, the daily taxonomy that you use, and really nail down how you refer to things. It also allows you to talk about the functionality you all expect from a given system. I find this one of the more interesting conversations that comes out of continuity workshops, is that people end up talking about what they use on a daily basis. And as a result, they talk about what they expect from it and those are very, very fruitful discussions. Because one person may use a Microsoft suite in a given way, while others use it in a whole host of very, very different ways. Administrators will also be able to see the ways in which all of these users, you know, put their resources to good use, or they don’t as the case may be. Often something that also comes out of this kind of workflow is that you see which systems are under utilized, or at least infrequently utilized, and can repurpose some of those dollars to other other systems, or at least buttress those systems that need reinforcement.

Hannah Coffey  36:42

Ah, and finally, my favorite part, just because I’m a compliance nerd. And I know nobody, nobody else in the room usually says that. However, one of the wonderful things about working in a team full of very smart people, but also having a full suite of very, very smart customers, is that we are able to stay on top of content and compliance, and your base plans, your annexes, and all of the accessory and indexed files, that come along with the ever changing and near endless federal guidance, stay up to date. And it’s very easy to do in a place where you can update your base plan at the kind of root directory level, as I like to call it. This material will cover everything from crosswalks that may be state dependent, right, maybe jurisdictional, and they may be cross jurisdictional, sometimes counties will create their own if they are sharing a financial burden to create these plans or if they’re sharing grant funds. But most importantly, this allows for a conversation to occur around the best practices. And often these are the clients who end up contributing things like NIMS, who end up contributing to the next iteration of CGC.


To listen to the Q&A or watch the entire recording of the webinar, click here. Follow the links to review our COOP Solutions Brief, and read more about successful COOP’s in a Veoci blog.

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