By Timothy D. Smith, National Continuity Programs, Continuity of Operations Division
We tend to think of Continuity of Operations, or COOP, as what we do when a mushroom cloud appears over a city…"break glass, open the COOP Plan!" In fact, Continuity of Operations is all around us, it is what we do when our "normal" processes or facilities/resources are not available to us. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples:
The Derecho this summer swept across the upper Midwest and into the densely populated Mid Atlantic. Over two million people were without power and numerous facilities lost the ability to do their basic job (essential functions) and could not ensure service to their customers (continuity). The storm affected individuals, businesses and government functions. Emergency 911 Centers were knocked off line, telecommunications companies lost service to great swaths of their service areas, and key personnel had difficulty getting to work. Some had plans in place, some did not. Some plans worked, some did not. This is all part of continuity planning and response. Those who had plans and had practiced them came back on line quickly. Others did not.
At the end of August, Hurricane Isaac crawled into the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. The Louisiana Recovery Office was forced to relocate from New Orleans due to the storm, moving operations inland according to their plans. The National Finance Center likewise was forced to leave its New Orleans office. They had a disaster plan, they executed it and it worked! The NFC reviews their plan annually in advance of hurricane season and has all the bases covered – transferring IT support, phone lines, personnel, an alternate site in Texas, time phased checklist, the works. So, did it go perfectly? In an interview with Sharon Cannon, with the NFC in New Orleans, she said they have a significant lesson learned from Isaac and are already revising the plan.
The hurricane tracked initially towards Alabama left them outside the activation point for their plan. When Isaac turned North West, the NFC activated the plan, sending an advance team to their site and the remainder of their cadre set to depart the next day. When the airport closed early, some of the team had to drive to the site in Texas. By the next morning the site was prepared and activated and operations were handed off from New Orleans to Texas without missing a beat (or paycheck).
Lesson Learned: adjust the trigger timeline and send Wave 1 personnel earlier. It all sounds pretty reasonable for disaster planning, except these plans were COOP Plans! A COOP Plan for a hurricane? Yes. Sharon is the COOP POC. The Texas alternate site is their COOP site. The NFC cadre are their Emergency Relocation Group. In the end, survivor’s needs were met and those assisting the survivors didn’t have to miss a paycheck.
Did you know FEMA has a COOP Plan? Do you know what your component will do when it is activated? Do you have a role? Hopefully you answered "Yes" to all three questions. Remember, it could be a storm, an earthquake or even a systemic building problem (hazardous material lurking inside a wall being torn down during renovation?) that causes us to activate our plan. If that happens, FEMA HQ does have a plan, a place to go and a staff to make sure we can execute our essential functions and carry out our mission.
One final question – do you have a personal COOP Plan? We’ll explore that in a future article.