Continuity-of-operations plans (COOP) represent a significant investment of time and resources. However, COOPs are also critical to maintaining a mission-critical agency’s operations during and after a natural or manmade event— including, but not limited to, tornadoes, hurricanes, pandemics, and terrorist attacks. While it is impossible to prevent or predict these events, having a COOP in place can help mitigate the effects of such disasters—ultimately enabling an agency to maintain critical operations when communities need them most.
Creating a COOP
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for agencies looking to develop a COOP. Because no two jurisdictions are the same, the best approach to COOP development is one customized to meet the specific needs of the agency it will serve. However, there are several key steps to COOP development that can help an agency achieve the comprehensive plan needed to navigate an event.
- Identify mission-essential functions: Which functions cannot be compromised for any length of time? For an emergency medical services agency, these would include basic and advanced life support, as well as victim transport. For an emergency communications center, these would include the ability to handle 911 calls and dispatch the appropriate emergency response.
- Identify mission-essential personnel: Which positions within the agency are critical for maintaining ongoing operations? Define the roles, responsibilities, and work tasks needed to support those mission-essential functions.
- Identify and assess systems and equipment: Which hardware and software are critical to operations and are necessary for maintaining mission-essential functions?
- Identify continuity strategies: Which intergovernmental agreements (ILA), mutual-aid agreements, memoranda of understanding (MOU), or other polices and agreements are needed to maintain operations during an event?
It is important to keep in mind that successful mitigation of a crisis hinges on effective communications. Agencies also need to develop a crisis communications plan that can be activated in concert with a COOP. This plan should identify strategies for communicating with internal and external stakeholders, as well as warning and alerting procedures.
Testing, Training, and Plan Management
Once an agency’s COOP is created, it is important to test the plan to identify any gaps that may exist. Consider using operational and discussion-based exercises to test the elements of the plan and train staff who are identified within the plan as critical to its execution. Plan reviews, as well as testing and training, should be conducted at least yearly, and the COOP also should be revisited following any activation.
We cannot predict the future, but we can be ready for it. The process of developing a COOP may seem daunting, but these plans are crucial for maintaining an agency’s mission-critical operations when a crisis hits. To learn more about the COOP-development process, including use cases for plan activation and additional insights regarding the COOP creation outlined here, download our whitepaper, “Pandemic Continuity-of-Operations Plans.”
For additional information on Mission Critical Partners’ COOP and disaster-recovery (DR) planning support services, click here.